Big League Stew

Bruce Chen attempts 10 pickoffs during one at-bat

David Brown
Big League Stew

Aw, c'mon, Chen!

That seemed to be the general feeling at Target Field on Sunday as Kansas City Royals left-hander Bruce Chen kept watch on Denard Span of the Minnesota Twins during the first inning. Chen kept a real close watch, in fact, throwing over to first base a total of 10 times during Jamey Carroll's at-bat after Span had drawn a leadoff walk.

The sequence ended anticlimactically, as Chen did not pick off Span, who did not even try to steal second base, instead reaching there on Carroll's bleeding single to shallow left. Chen continued to have trouble in the first, and Minnesota put up four runs on the way to a 7-4 victory.

But certainly there was something appealing, if also annoying, about Chen's incessant pickoff attempts, futile though they were. He never really made a strong, quick move to first. He never appeared to get Span leaning. Never appeared to balk. And yet, Chen said in the Kansas City Star that he had good reason to keep tabs on Span, who came in with 76 career stolen bases in 481 games:

"He's a fast runner," Chen said. "He's on first base, and he's trying to get to second base. I'm going to do everything I can to keep him at first base. If you only throw over one time, you only have one chance to pick him off.

"I just wanted to make sure he knew I knew he was there."

Oh, Chen certainly did that.

Span said he was wise to Chen's motives because of a previous confrontation where Chen threw to first three times before picking off Span on the fourth try. Not this time, Chen! Span, quoted by reporter Tyler Mason of Fox Sports North, said:

"It was a little over the top, but I think that's kind of his personality. He didn't care."

View photo

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Is Chen throwing to first? Probably. (AP)

That's why he's the Chenmaster. This wasn't just a thing he had for Span, either. Chen ranks high league-wide on total pickoff throws and pickoff attempts per baserunner. He'll throw over until he's ready not to. And these actions somehow can transcend frustration and amusement.

Span and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer could be seen smiling at each other at one point after Chen threw over three straight times. The Target crowd, some of which was booing by the second throw, let out a Bronx cheer after Chen threw a pitch home. Is there some kind of unwritten rule about how many pickoff attempts a pitcher is allowed? Certainly there's nothing official, just like there's no clock in baseball. At some point, you have to figure that an umpire would demand that Chen pitch rather than pick.

But a little booing from the crowd? Chen doesn't care. Chen is working. And when Chen is done working, Chen sings.

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