SURPRISE, Ariz. – Bruce Chen went nearly four years without winning a major league game before he led the Kansas City Royals with 12 victories last year.
He went from begging for a minor league contract in 2009 after missing the previous season because of elbow surgery to arriving in spring training this year with a $2 million contract.
"I wanted to be back, but I didn't hear from the Royals for a long time and there were some other teams offering," Chen said Monday. "Then they said we would like to have you back. We want to see if we're going to trade one of the right-handers. I'm thinking Greinke."
Chen's 4.17 ERA last year was slightly lower than Zack Greinke's, and Chen had two more wins. Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner, was dealt in December to the Milwaukee Brewers.
"They trade Greinke and we don't talk for awhile," Chen said. "It was like 'Man, it's January and I better do something quick.' I say to my agent, 'Let's go back to Kansas City and see what their best offer is. Let's see if we can get a deal done.' Both sides were willing to work on something. In less than a week the contract is done."
The 33-year-Chen went 12-7 record and won his final four starts, including a two-hitter against Tampa Bay for his first career shutout. He was hoping for a multiyear contract.
"I never received a two-year deal," he said. "It's more realistic to go with a one-year deal. This is the organization that gave me the opportunity."
When Chen beat Seattle on Aug. 6, 2009, it was his first big league victory since Oct. 2, 2005. He went 1-13 with Baltimore, Texas and Kansas City in that span.
Then, Chen came within one win last year of the career high he set in 2005.
"It wasn't just one thing," Chen said. "I had to change a lot of things. You can't expect like one little tweak and it's going to help me win 12 games or try to form me into a different pitcher. First of all, it all started in the offseason. I trained. I was in the best shape. I also dropped down my arm angle. All those bad years I learned from that, too. I got much more experience. I see what works, what didn't work. Then I learned how to pitch a lot more. I studied a lot of film too. My preparation before the game was very good. All those four things, I think, helped me have the year I had last year."
Pitching coach Bob McClure said being injury free was a key.
"It was his second year of not being hurt," McClure said. "His command was better. He changed his arm angle a little bit. All of those things contributed. His brain worked right on how he could mix pitches. He's become a complete pitcher."
Manager Ned Yost is happy to have Chen back.
"He started having a little more deception with three different arm slots," Yost said. "He threw more strikes. He kept the ball down. He changed speeds real well from three different angles. Bruce is a different look guy. Bruce will throw an 83 miles-per-hour fastball and then throw a 91-miles-per-hour fastball to get you to swing. It's a look you don't see a lot in the American League. That's to Bruce's advantage."
Chen wants to prove last year was not a fluke.
"Now I have more confidence," he said. "I see what works. I know what I can do."