In the eyes of Orioles manager Buck Showalter, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen battled some tough luck in his first two starts of the season. He pitched well enough to win, his skipper said, but was victimized by seeing-eye hits that led to some early exits.
After allowing nearly two hits an inning in those starts, Chen set the tone early against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night at Camden Yards and ended up turning in his best start of the year.
Chen didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning and held the Rays to one run and five hits over 6 1/3 innings, leading the Orioles (6-7) to a 7-1 victory in front of an announced crowd of 15,799 at Camden Yards in one of their most complete wins of the season.
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“The baseball gods were kind to him tonight after not being kind to him early on,” Showater said. “We played real good defense. I thought they centered a lot of balls off him. Real good defense. Three double plays. Two behind him. … They hit a lot of balls hard tonight that we caught. Fortunately, we had people where they hit them.”
The Orioles offense battered one of the best young pitchers in the American League East, scoring seven runs on 12 hits over five innings against Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer — the most runs that the 25-year-old has allowed in a single outing in 32 major league appearances.
And while the Rays made good contact against Chen throughout the night, he was the recipient of some fine tone-setting defense behind him.
“It's nice to go out there and pitch like we did, hit like we did,” said Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who had three hits, including two doubles. “It was just a good game all around.”
Chen received a standing ovation as he exited the game in the seventh inning having completed his first quality start since last Sept. 7, a span of seven starts.
Following the outing, Chen (2-1) said he needed a strong showing like Monday, when he retired 13 of the first 14 hitters he faced before allowing his first hit of the game, a one-out double by James Loney in the fifth.
“I would say [I needed it] pretty bad, because in my last outing my teammates did a fantastic job scoring well for me, but I didn't do a really good job,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “So I was really trying to do a good job for the team and to get a win for the team. Today, the defense picked me up, so I really appreciate the team effort.”
Chen, 28, struggled at the end of last season, going 1-4 over his final 11 starts.
Even after earning his first win this season on April 8 in a 14-5 victory over the New York Yankees on the road — in which he allowed four runs and nine hits over five innings — he was disappointed that he couldn't take advantage of the quick lead his team gave him.
A start against Tampa Bay (7-7), a team he's had success against in the past, came at the perfect time. In nine career starts against the Rays, including Monday, Chen is 3-3 with a 2.86 ERA, his lowest ERA against any AL East opponent.
Meanwhile, the Orioles pounced on Archer, the third-place finisher in last year's AL Rookie of the Year race, who had allowed just 10 hits and two runs over his first two starts of the season.
“I thought we were pretty selective, got some counts,” Showalter said. “He's a good pitcher. … Timing means everything. I wouldn't expect to be that fortunate off Archer many times."
The Orioles sat on Archer's mid-90s fastball and forced the Rays outfielders to chase balls in the gaps early in the night, posting five doubles over the first three innings.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters had three hits and drove in the game's first run with a two-out single in the bottom of the first. Five of the Orioles' seven runs were scored with two outs in an inning.
“He's tough,” Wieters said of Archer. “He's got great stuff, so he's one of those guys that you go up there and kind of look for something over the plate that you can put some barrel on. We were able to kind of keep the ball rolling. A lot of big two-out hits, a lot of big RBIs with guys on second. It wasn't really the long ball that did it tonight, but we found a way to win.”
Chen entered the night having allowed 21 hits over 10 2/3 innings over his first two starts, but he established his fastball early in the count Monday against Tampa Bay, initiating contact early in at-bats and letting his defense make plays behind him.
“Command of the fastball is always big,” Wieters said. “The big thing is he was able to stay down in the zone, which is huge. He was able to get strikes at the knees, which kind of makes all hitters a little bit more antsy.”
Third baseman Ryan Flaherty drove in a pair of runs off Archer, including a one-out, opposite-field single into shallow left field against a shift in the second inning. Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis followed with back-to-back, run-scoring doubles to put the Orioles up 4-0 on Archer. Flaherty drove in another run on a two-out single in the fifth.
Flaherty also helped Chen with his glove. On the first play of the game, he made a back-handed stab on the edge of the grass on Ben Zobrist's sharp one-hopper.
“For me, Ryan Flaherty had four hits tonight,” Showalter said. “He had two hits and he took two … he took a double away. That's 180 feet. That's how I look at defenders. You can go 0-for-4, and in my mind, really have three hits because you kept three balls from being base hits.”
Chen held the Rays scoreless until two outs in the sixth inning, when Evan Longoria's two-out single scored Ben Zobrist from second base.
Hardy's second double of the night, which came with one out in the third inning, gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead. Hardy then came in to score on Steve Lombardozzi's single to center field to make it 6-0.
Right-hander Evan Meek tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief, and Darren O'Day threw a perfect ninth.