Orioles pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada emerged from the trainer's room Tuesday afternoon with his left arm heavily wrapped in ice from shoulder to elbow. The true damage, however, was to the 31-year-old left-hander's psyche, at least initially.
Wada, a five-year veteran of the Japanese Pacific League, made the first Grapefruit League start of his career against the Minnesota Twins at Ed Smith Stadium, and it wasn't what he had hoped.
His spring slowed by left shoulder discomfort, Wada's only previous big league outing was a two-inning relief appearance against the Braves on March 18. On Thursday, he pitched against the Red Sox's Double-A team in a minor league game to begin stretching his arm to compete for a starting rotation spot.
Wada, known for his pinpoint control, struggled Tuesday against a Twins lineup that included six starters. Wada lasted just three innings, allowing six base runners — four of them scoring — on four hits and two walks. He battled through a 30-pitch second inning.
Wada called it a step backward. And as the Orioles assemble the back end of their starting rotation, it left them uncertain where Wada, who signed a two-year, $8.14 million contract with a 2014 option and a clause that requires his approval before he is sent to the minors, fits in their plans.
"If I keep pitching like this, I know I won't be able to throw and be in the starting rotation. I might not even be able to throw in general [for the Orioles] if I keep up throwing like this," Wada said through interpreter Seob Yoon. "I have to work on it.
"It didn't go that well. I'm not satisfied."
Wada was refreshingly honest in his self-assessment, saying he's worried he's running out of time to make the team. He struggled with his mechanics early, he said, and had trouble throwing his two-seam fastball for a strike. But Wada insisted he is healthy and made sure he wasn't using his slow spring start as an excuse.
The back-to-back walks Wada issued in the second inning were unique. He hadn't issued one in five previous innings this spring. But Wada regrouped in his third inning, setting the Twins down in order, finishing his 62-pitch outing (with 38 strikes) with strikeouts of Chris Parmelee and Ben Revere.
"There's nothing to feel bad about," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "We're all trying to work on getting ready for the season. That's all the outing was today, is just not quite being able to locate his fastball like he's used to. He'll get where he's supposed to be. I know he's going to be a guy who is going to be able to locate better than he was able to today."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after Tuesday's game that he still sees seven or eight candidates for the starting rotation. It appears that Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel are penciled in, and Tommy Hunter's six shutout innings Monday all but placed him in the rotation as well.
But the battle for the fifth spot — which comes down to Wada and lefty Brian Matusz, likely along with right-hander Alfredo Simon and left-hander Dana Eveland — seems to be anything but decided.
"We do exercises in the morning in the meetings about where we are with this and how this looks," Showalter said. "We were moving magnets around this morning just like y'all do on paper. There are no secrets where the competition is and where the decisions need to be made. We're ready to make them, but while there's still time to get more looks and make better decisions, we will."
Barring no physical setbacks, Showalter said Wada is scheduled to make two more starts — and have two more opportunities to prove he deserves to be in the starting rotation. He will next pitch Saturday or Sunday, Showalter said, but it's undecided whether he'll throw in a Grapefruit League game or minor league camp.
"He's just trying to get physically where he needs to get," Showalter said. I feel confident, abilitywise and stuff, what he's going to be able to do for us. It's just a matter of him getting there."
Once camp breaks, the bullpen is another option, though Showalter insists that thought hasn't been brought up and he wants Wada to continue to have a starter's mentality. If Wada's not ready physically, he could also remain in Sarasota and participate in extended spring training.
"Wada is going to be a moving target about what's going to happen with him physically," Showalter said. "Can he get there? If he gets to five or six innings, he's a real option for us. I feel confident he will join our rotation at some point. We'll see if that happens."
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