Lakeland, Fla. – It’s always a challenge to interview a baseball player through an interpreter. You can never know what’s being left out of the translation.
Case in point: Tigers right-hander Shao-Ching Chiang, who is from Taiwan, has an interpreter named Fox. When asked for his full name, he said, “Just Fox.”
One of the first questions posed to Chiang was how, after being in the Indians’ organization for eight seasons, did he end up with the Tigers?
Chiang smirked, said something that was probably a joke. Fox responded with a chuckle, and the translation came out like this: “He said he didn’t think too much about it. Every offseason is a challenge. He liked this team.”
Something else got lost in the translation, or left out, of the scouting reports on Chiang – namely his ability to fire a baseball 98 mph.
“We didn’t know he had that kind of velo,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after Chiang made his spring debut last week. "We were told low- to mid-90s. When we saw the gun – that was impressive.”
His fastball hit 97 and 98 again on Tuesday against the Phillies, and he also showed a much crisper slider.
“He’s only been out twice, but today you saw better shape on his breaking ball,” pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “First time out he didn’t have a breaking ball. He’s a little late getting started, but he’s opened some eyes.”
Enough so that, despite missing the first three weeks with a sore back, he very suddenly is in the mix for a bullpen spot.
“He said he’s not opposed to that type of role,” said Fox, translating Chiang’s response. “Whatever decision, whenever they want him to pitch, he will do it.”
Chiang, 26, has been a starter his entire career, except for his two stints on the Chinese Taipei National team. But after all he’s been through to get to this point, he just wants to get to the big leagues.
He signed with the Indians in 2011 when he was 17, for $250,000. He came to the United States a year later with two other Taiwanese players – catcher Li Jen Chu and shortstop Ping-Hsueh Chen – but didn’t have a full season until 2014, when the Taiwanese trio helped the Indians win an Arizona Rookie League title.
But he lost close to three years to Tommy John surgery and didn’t really start his ascent through the Indians system until 2017. He put himself on the radar when he threw a no-hitter for High-A Lynchburg and was quickly moved up to Double-A.
He got lit up in his first stint at Double-A Akron but conquered that level the next season. He got hit around at Triple-A Columbus, too, posting an ERA over 5.0 and a 1.4 WHIP in two seasons, which led to the Indians designating him for assignment last December.
“It wasn’t too difficult,” Fox interpreted for Chiang, when asked how he reacted to being cut loose after eight years in the same system. “It wasn’t difficult because he loves American baseball. That’s what he came over here for. He just wants a chance to play American baseball.”
The Tigers, who had seen him plenty over the years pitching in the Eastern League and International League, gave him that chance. They saw that his four-seam fastball had heavy, sinking action and was getting a lot of ground balls, and that he threw strikes.
They couldn’t have known there was 98 mph in that tank, though. Which begged another question that Chiang skillfully only half-answered – where did that come from?
“This offseason wasn’t too much different than every other offseason,” Fox interpreted. “He said he’s always trying to get bigger, stronger and better. He didn’t feel too much of a surprise (seeing the high velocity numbers). His focus was on the game.
“But he was pretty happy, though, because that meant his body was healthy.”
The Tigers thought they were getting some depth for their Triple-A starting rotation when they signed Chiang. Instead, though the sample-size is small and nothing is locked in, they may be adding another power arm to the bullpen mix.
And Fox says Chiang is OK with that.