PASCO -- Ching-Lung Lo was 17 years old when he first arrived in Tri-Cities as a second-year professional in 2003.
He showed terrific promise for such a young player, registering a mid-90s fastball and some nice off-speed pitches. He didn't get a lot of run support that season with a 3-7 record, but his 2.85 ERA in 14 starts showed he could handle himself on the field.
But he wasn't so at ease off the field. The language barrier was keeping the native of Tainan, Taiwan, from blossoming in his new surroundings.
"It wasn't scary, just really difficult to talk to teammates. I was still good with everyone. I just didn't spend much time with them," said Lo, a towering 6-foot-6 right-hander. "At that time I had a translator, but I didn't speak too much."
Seven seasons later, he is a different man. He no longer needs a translator after learning to speak English and appears to be much more comfortable in the Dust Devils clubhouse.
"As soon as I started speaking more English, everything got easier," he said.
One of his biggest lessons in pro baseball is that the learning never stops. After the Colorado Rockies noticed a gradual drop in his velocity, they encouraged Lo to try something different in hopes of generating some more heat and movement in his pitches.
This season, instead of an overhand delivery, Lo will employ a sidearm motion that has been very effective since he first tried it two weeks ago.
"He threw live batting practice today, and he threw well," Tri-City manager Fred Ocasio said. "His pitches have been moving a bit more, and his velocity is starting to pick up. Hopefully, he can continue to do that so we can get him to the level he needs to be."
More importantly, Lo seemed to feel a difference.
"I throw a little bit harder. Maybe because of my arm angle I can use a little more strength," said Lo, who said he has been topping out at 92 mph. "Hopefully, I can go a little bit higher."
Lo, now in his 10th season, has been close to the major leagues, topping out at Triple-A Colorado Springs last season, where he went 0-1 with a 1.80 ERA in just five innings. He made just one start, not really enough to make a big splash.
But he's definitely hoping to make an impression in the Northwest League, which ranked him its 10th-best prospect in 2003. His role, however, will be limited to middle relief -- not as big a spotlight as a starter or closer, but certainly no less important to a team's success.
"Whatever the team needs," Lo said.
NOTES: Ocasio confirmed that Christian Bergman, a 6-2 right-hander, will get the opening-day start when the Dust Devils play host to the Everett AquaSox at 7:15 p.m. Friday at Gesa Stadium. Vianney Mayo, another righty, is expected to follow Bergman on Saturday.
Bergman was 1-4 with a 5.96 ERA at the Rockies' rookie affiliate in Casper, Wyo., last season, but his performance in extended spring training has been outstanding, according to reports.
"There's always something you can improve on, but I'm happy with the way things are going. We'll just try to continue it on the field," Bergman said.
Bergman took advantage of the Rockies new spring training home in Scottsdale, Ariz., which features a picturesque stadium and state-of-the-art workout facilities.
"No one's really happy to be in extended, but the new stadium is a lot of fun," he said. "The biggest thing is the weight room facilities. What you do off the field is just as important as what you do on the field. What we've got there separates us from all the others."
-- The first great Dust Devils nickname of 2011 has surfaced. It belongs to SS Jeff Squier, who has answered to the name "Squid" since college.
"Half the guys on the team don't know my first name is Jeff," joked Squier, a 14th-round draft choice out of Mississippi Valley State in 2009. "My dad thinks it's because when you type in 'Squier' on T9, squid comes up. Plus, I'm long and lanky. In college, I was this tall (6-3) and 160 pounds soaking wet.
"It could come from anywhere, but I embrace it. I've been called a lot worse."