Being without their dependable left-hander for more than seven weeks took a toll on the Orioles as well. They had waited in eager anticipation to get Chen back on a major league mound, hoping that his return could help stabilize the team's starting rotation heading into the All-Star break.
And in making his first big league appearance since May 12, Chen provided the struggling Orioles with a much needed boost in a 6-1 win over the Texas Rangers before an announced 19,344 at Camden Yards.
Chen held the Rangers to one run on three hits over seven innings, the club's first start of seven or more innings in six games. The Orioles (50-42) now have 50 wins by the All-Star break for the first time since 1997.
“It's been so long, and definitely once this happened on [my] first [time off] the DL, I'm happy today,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “I did a good job today. I proved myself. I can come back. I can come back healthy, and I can pitch in the major leagues.”
In the lefty's career with the Orioles, he's pitched seven or more innings 11 times. The Orioles have won all of those games, and Chen is 9-0 in them.
“I know he's been anxious to get back with the club and make a contribution,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It's been a tough, tough road for him. … It's been frustrating for him, I think.”
In his first major league season last year, Chen gave the Orioles a team-high 32 starts and 192 2/3 innings, so his absence was more than noticeable, especially as the Orioles' starters struggled to get deep into games.
“It's big,” Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said about Chen's return. “For the last year and a half he was a consistent force for our rotation. You know he's going to go out there and give you everything he has and compete. You want that guy going on the mound as much as you can.”
Chen (4-3) held the Rangers scoreless through his first five innings of work Wednesday and didn't allow a hit until Adrian Beltre's two-out single in the fourth inning. He recorded his sixth quality start in nine outings this season.
Designated hitter Nolan Reimold's three-run homer off Rangers right-hander Josh Lindblom — his first home run since May 5 — capped a four-run fourth inning as the Orioles had their highest offensive output in 10 games.
Reimold wasn't supposed to be in the starting lineup, but was inserted after designated hitter Chris Dickerson strained his left shoulder taking a swing in batting practice.
Reimold had struggled since returning from the disabled list last week, and he's hitting just .162 against right-handed pitching this season.
“Something to build on,” Reimold said of the homer. “Something to hopefully carry into the next day.”
The Orioles had been woeful with runners in scoring position over the past nine games, batting just .138 (8-for-58), the worst average in the American League over that span. But on Wednesday, they came through in the clutch, scoring six runs in the first four innings against Lindblom (1-3), who was making a spot start for the Rangers' injury-ravaged starting rotation.
“We were able to have some good at-bats tonight,” Wieters said. “There weren't too many at-bats we just gave away. We were able to get his pitch count up and have a big inning, which is huge in this game.
Manny Machado, who had three hits for his majors-leading 36th multihit game, smacked an RBI triple into the gap in left-center in the third inning, plating the first run of the game. Machado scored on a wild pitch later that inning to make it 2-0.
The Orioles then batted around in the fourth. Lindblom issued back-to-back walks to Wieters and J.J. Hardy to open the inning. Brian Roberts then hit a ball to deep center field that went off the glove of Rangers center fielder Engel Beltre just before he crashed into the wall.
The play was review by the umpiring crew to confirm that the ball didn't leave the yard and Roberts settled for an RBI single.
That's when Reimold hit a towering first-pitch fly ball to left that landed in the second row of the stands for his fifth homer of the season.
The Rangers (53-38) issued a season-high seven walks. They had issued six walks four times this season, but not since April 30.
“I don't know that it was a do or die night, but when you're playing somebody who's up in the standings, it's never too early to look beyond that,” Roberts said. “When you're playing head to head, you need to get wins against teams that are right there with you or ahead of you, so I think tonight was important, for sure.”
Despite a 21-pitch first inning, Chen allowed just one baserunner over his first three innings — a two-out walk to Elvis Andrus in the second — and he had three strikeouts just five batters into the game by mixing his fastball with a quality curveball and occasional changeup.
“In the first inning, I was a little bit pumped up, overwhelming, and I couldn’t control my ball like really well,” Chen said. “But I’m a human being, and I’m always emotional. After the first inning, everything was set up.”
Chen gave up his only run in the sixth when the Orioles just missed an inning-ending double play, allowing Ian Kinsler to score. Chen prevented further damage that inning, stranding runners on second and third. He needed just eight pitches to retire the Rangers in order in the seventh before Tommy Hunter ended the win with two scoreless innings of relief.
Showalter said the Orioles are considering sending Chen to the minors over the All-Star break so he can make another start and maintain his rhythm. Either way, they're happy to have him back heading toward the stretch run.
“Missed him,” Showalter said. “Glad to have him back. It's exciting to have him back, but it doesn't mean we're just going to throw our glove out there. We've got to catch it and do a lot of other things to make it work.
“But I like our chances a lot better with him here.”