One thing I’ve learned in covering baseball over the years is you shouldn’t make too big of a deal about one performance in a 162-game season.
There is no such thing as a must-win game in April. I get that.
But it was pretty obvious that Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen badly needed a good start Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I would say pretty bad,” Chen said through his interpreter, Louis Chao. “Because in my last outing, my teammates did a fantastic job scoring well for me, but I didn’t do a really good job. 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.”
The win Monday certainly wasn’t Chen’s smoothest outing of his career. He gave up, in baseball parlance, a lot of loud outs. The Rays bashed a lot of his pitches, but they hit them at Orioles defenders.
And when the dust settled, Chen walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the announced 15,799 at Camden Yards after giving up one run through 6 1/3 innings. He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth and only allowed a total of five.
He walked just two after walking eight total in his first two games. His pitches were around the plate, but they were darting more often than they have before in 2014.
“I think the main difference [Monday] was the movement on my pitches was better to the hitters, and the hitters had more trouble with it,” he said.
Chen was 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in his first two outings this season against American League East rivals New York and Boston. He hadn’t gotten through six innings in either start. He hadn’t given up fewer than nine hits or four runs.
Simply put, he hadn’t pitched well.
And he faced a third consecutive division opponent, the Rays, on Monday. In his career, Chen had been better against the Rays than any other team in the AL East.
He did it to the Rays again Monday. And, whether the club will admit it, that was big relief for the Orioles.
To truly compete this season, the Orioles need to get more out of their starting pitching.
Although Ubaldo Jimenez is perhaps the biggest key, Chen is 1A. He is now in his third season in the majors. The training wheels are long off. He has to pitch at least like a No. 3 starter, keeping the club in games most nights when he’s on the hill.
He has to win when the defense plays well and he gets some offensive support. Those two ingredients were there Monday, and Chen delivered.
Yes, it’s only April. But another rough start from Chen would have officially raised some concern.