It may be a case of divine intervention to help the young and talented Chinese Taipei national team after suffering three consecutive to Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Stars in the five-game 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series. Enter Taiwanese-born Fu-Te Ni–often referred to by Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) fans as “Tu Di Gong” or “Fu Teh Cheng Shen” because his given name is the same as the formal name for the Chinese God of the Land–taking the mound Saturday, November 5th at Kaohsiung’s Cheng-Ching Lake Stadium to the delight of mortal and deity beings everywhere and restoring balance in these seemingly lopsided exhibition games.
Having pitched for Chinese Taipei in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic, the lefty Fu-Te Ni soon became a fan favorite in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009 Ni signed a minor league contract with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate for the Detroit Tigers. It didn’t take long for Ni to be the first player to transition from the CPBL to MLB when he was called up by the Tigers in June 2009, becoming the sixth Taiwanese player to enter the big leagues.
Ni made his major league debut on June 29, 2009 in relief of Rick Porcello against the Oakland A’s. His first major league match up was no small feat as the once famous Moneyball all-star who got away, Jason Giambi stood sixty feet away. Ni would strike out the left-hand hitting slugger and two other batters in 1.2 innings of relief. Mixing a four-seam fastball with a change-up and slider, Fu-Te Ni kept the hitters off-balance. Offering no free passes to first base with precision pitch control, Ni threw 21 of his 27 pitches for strikes. Later Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented, “He’s not afraid. That’s what I like about him. He’s got a little hitch of giddy-up.” In his first season with Detroit, Fu-Te Ni put away some of MLB’s best including Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Adam Jones and Aubrey Huff. Opponents batted just .187 against Ni, and he became a reliable left-hander out of the Tigers bullpen. Most impressive, however, was his American League relievers-leading 8.6 percent of inherited runners to score statistic(3-35).
In 2010 hitters began to take advantage of Ni’s troubles in hitting the low-end of the strike zone and locating the breaking ball against left-handed hitters, resulting in a catapulting .290 batting average against the left-hand throwing hurler. He struck out 22 batters over 23 innings, but also gave up 19 walks before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Although he had participated in the 2011 Tigers Spring Training Camp, Ni split his time as a starter and reliever in the International League, where he started 12 games and posted a 6-3 record with a 3.24 ERA. In 111 innings pitched, Ni struck out 93 and walked 34.
Equipped with renewed confidence and control of his pitches, Chinese Taipei’s Fu-Te Ni is ready to redeem himself in the eyes of the MLB skeptics in the Taiwan All-Stars Series. Of all the players on the MLB All-Stars roster, only the recently awarded 2011 Silver Slugger winner New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and 2011 Rawlings Gold Glove recipient Los Angeles Angels of Angels Shortstop Erick Aybar have faced Ni in Major League action. As a former 2009 Detroit Tigers teammate of MLB All-Star Curtis Granderson–who was crowned “American League Outstanding Player” in the 2011 Players Choice Awards and also recipient of a 2011 Silver Slugger Award, Fu-Te Ni held Cano hitless. In 2010 Aybar did not fare any better as he struck out in his only at bat against Ni. The writing is on the wall and in the sky for the Chinese God of the Land that “Tu Di Gong” is back with a vengeance to earn his Chinese Taipei national team their first victory against his fellow MLB All-Stars.