This afternoon the Orioles will look to take the series from the Kansas City Royals, and to do so they'll have to get the best of old friend Bruce Chen. The Orioles are in an age of young pitching right now, with a bevy of potential stars in the rotation. It's easy to forget that not too long ago the rotation was a compilation of has-beens and and never-will-bes, and Bruce Chen was one of them.
Despite the fact that he's been a below-average pitcher for most of his career, Chen has been knocking around the majors since 1998. He's had only two true stellar stretches in his career, 2000 with the Braves and Phillies, and 2004-2005 with the Orioles.
Chen came to the Orioles from the Blue Jays' organization in May 2004 and got called up to the Orioles in August of that year. He made seven fine starts and gave the Orioles a bit of stability in the dog days. More than that, Chen was an easy guy to root for, a underdog who always seemed to have a smile on his face.
Sadly, 2006 was a bad year for Chen. His personality was a hit with the fans and so the Orioles gave him a scoreboard feature, "Bruce Chen's Joke of the Day." After a handful of terrible starts, that feature was axed when the common sentiment among fans was that the only joke was Chen's pitching. After eleven starts and a 7.71 ERA, Chen was demoted to the bullpen, where he wasn't much better. His poor performance was hard to watch and just another reminder that the team's success in the first half of 2005 had been a mirage.
It's now been five years since Chen was an Oriole and six since his fantastic 2005 season. He spent some time with the Texas Rangers and missed the entire 2008 season after having elbow surgery, then signed with the Kansas City Royals in 2009. He's now in his third season with the Royals and seems to have found a home there. He had a decent 2010 and has been pretty much league average so far this season. He'll probably never have another year like he did in 2005, but as long as he pitches the way he is now some team will find a place for him.
I'll always have a soft spot for Bruce Chen, his success in Baltimore, and his corny jokes. But remembering him and the mid-2000s rotations makes me realize even more how lucky we are to get to watch our current stock of young pitching.