SEATTLE -- At-bats have been tough to come by for Delmon Young recently. Starts have been even more rare.
But over the past few days, Young had campaigned for manager Buck Showalter to start him in Thursday night’s series opener against Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma.
“I had already faced him,” Young said. “I had good numbers [against him]. They say I only play with [good] numbers, so if I didn’t play today, I knew something was wrong.”
Showalter wanted to get all of his bench players a start at some point during the team’s 10-game, West Coast road trip, and Young was the last player to make a start in that span.
Showalter placed Young in the starting lineup for just the third time this month, putting him in the No. 2 spot in the Orioles batting order. Young rewarded his manager’s faith, hitting a three-run home run off Iwakuma in the third inning that powered the Orioles to a 4-0 victory over the Mariners in front of an announced 19,621 at Safeco Field.
“I thought I was going to see 10-for-11 or something [against Iwakuma], but it was like 2-for-5,” Showalter said. “I was going to play him anyway, I spoke to him a day or two ago. … Delmon is a professional hitter. We are lucky to have him. He had a big blow for us. Obviously as big as a hit as there was in the game.”
On a chilly night in the Pacific Northwest, Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen cooled the Mariners hitters with his best outing of the season. He held Seattle scoreless for eight innings, tying his career-high for longest start.
The Orioles (56-45), who maintained their three-game lead in the American League East over the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, have now won 15 of their last 22 road games and 4 of 7 on their current road trip.
The win was the Orioles' eighth shutout of the season and their first since an 8-0 victory over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on June 22.
Chen (11-3) gave the Orioles their fourth straight quality start, but it was only his second over his past six outings. Over the past four games, Orioles starters have pitched to a 1.27 ERA, allowing just four runs in 28 1/3 innings.
“It’s good because we’ve been getting ahead early, and they’ve been pitching well, so we don’t have to go out there and score five or six runs,” Young said. “If we go out there and score three or four, we can win because once the ball gets into the bullpen’s hands with a lead, 90 percent of the time we’re coming out with a win.”
Chen won his fourth straight decision, allowing just six base runners -- five singles and one walk -- while striking out three batters.
“Probably the best I’ve seen him in a really long time,” catcher Caleb Joseph said. “Really did well with the fastball, mixed in a really good slider, threw the curveball and the changeup, and that’s the type of performance we really need out of him for us to be playoff-contending team."
Chen made easy work of the Mariners lineup. After leadoff hitter James Jones was thrown out at home plate in the first inning, Chen didn’t allow a base runner to reach second base for the rest of the night.
“My slider and curveball worked really well today, and I got good command of my fastball,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “That’s why I could pitch a really good game out there.”
Young, whose last start came July 6, had two hits against Iwakuma on Thursday and is now 4-for-8 with two homers and five RBIs against the Mariners starter. He is also hitting .400 (14-for-35) with three of his four home runs this season from the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
Young’s homer was the Orioles’ 123rd of the season, tying them with Toronto for the most in the major leagues.
“It’s just we got to hit pitchers’ mistakes, and that’s what we’ve been keying on this road trip with the home runs we’ve been hitting,” Young said.
Iwakuma (8-5) entered the night with a 3-0 record and 1.57 ERA in four July starts while displaying pinpoint control -- he hadn’t allowed a walk over his last four starts (28 2/3 innings) -- but he allowed four runs and seven hits Thursday while striking out five and issuing no walks. All of the runs and five of the hits came in the third inning.
The bottom of the Orioles lineup fueled the team’s four-run third inning as No. 8 hitter Ryan Flaherty and No. 9 hitter Joseph hit back-to-back looping singles to open the frame.
Leadoff hitter Nick Markakis then singled past diving first baseman Corey Hart and into right field, scoring Flaherty with the first run of the game.
Young then crushed a first-pitch slider from Iwakuma and sent it over the left-field fence for his fourth homer of the season. Young is 8-for-18 (.444) on the first pitch of at-bats this season.
Chen walked Jones to start the game, and the Mariners center fielder stole second base and moved to third base on a groundout to first base.
Robinson Cano then hit a slow grounder in front of the mound that Chen scooped with his glove and tossed to Joseph at home plate for the second out of the inning. The play drew a crew-chief review, but it stood after a wait of 3 minutes, 45 seconds.
“Since all the way back to spring training, Buck told us about being aware of all kinds of situations,” Chen said. “During the play, I took a peak and saw that the runner was going, so I did what I needed to do to get the ball to the plate. I think with a lot of practice in spring training, that’s a result of that practice.”
After allowing a two-out single to Stefen Romero in the eighth inning, Chen induced Cano into a groundout to shortstop J.J. Hardy for his final out of the night. Right-hander Darren O'Day tossed a scoreless ninth, his 13th consecutive outing without allowing a run.
Showalter said he believed Chen was upset about being pulled from his last start Saturday after throwing 86 pitches in five innings, so he made sure he conserved his pitches Thursday in order to pitch deeper into the game.
“I don’t think he was real happy with the manager after the last outing,” Showalter said. “He takes a lot of pride in getting deep into games. I could tell he had a little extra edge going into tonight. … That’s about as good as you can pitch. Used the inner half of the plate and had great depth on his breaking ball.”
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