One of the biggest surprises of a stunning 93-win season for the Orioles last season was the emergence of Taiwanese left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who led Baltimore starters in wins, quality starts, strikeouts and ERA.
Chen started 32 games -- 12 more than Jason Hammel and Tommy Hunter, who tied for second on the team -- and pitched a team-leading 192.2 innings, which was more than he had pitched in a season overseas.
Chen started to struggle as the season wore on, as he had an ERA of 3.64 and a WHIP of 1.22 through July and a 4.75 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in August and September. (He did pitch well in his lone playoff start, allowing two runs, one earned, in 6 1/3 innings of a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS.) Some of that may have been fatigue, but opponents were also probably starting to figure the rookie out a little bit.
Now as he prepares to face the Tampa Bay Rays tonight in the team's second game of the season, the question hovering above the 2012 Rookie of the Year candidate’s head is whether he can duplicate his success.
More specifically, now that teams like the Rays and other American League East rivals have gotten a few looks at Chen's stuff and his approach on the mound, can he continue to get guys out?
Chen, who turns 28 in July, went 4-6 against divisional foes during the 2012 regular season, including a 1-3 record against the Rays, but he did have a 3.92 ERA within the division, per ESPN.
He lost his final four decisions against the AL East before shutting down the Yankees at Camden Yards in the playoffs.
This spring, the Orioles kept Chen (and fellow surprise 2012 starter Miguel Gonzalez) away from AL East lineups, more so than they already try to do with their starters, though Chen, who had an 8.22 ERA in limited work in exhibitions this spring, did pitch two scoreless innings against the Rays in early March.
The Rays will get a more extended look tonight at Tropicana Field.
Of course, one could make the argument that Chen, who is still fairly young, is bound to be better in his second season in the big leagues (the culture shock of coming to the United States has also probably subsided). He was 12-11 a season ago with a 4.02 ERA, a number that could dip if he continues to keep hitters on their toes, which won’t be easy in the wide-open AL East, a division with no clear favorite or cellar-dweller.
Chen matching his fine rookie season is no sure thing, though.
That’s not to say that he can’t or that he won’t; just that there are no guarantees, especially when it comes to inexperienced pitchers.
Tonight’s start should be the first of many this year for Chen, who will be matched up with another talented youngster in Tampa Bay’s Jeremy Hellickson. It's just one April game, but it might give us an idea of whether opponents are still trying to figure him out.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun