Rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen had just finished speaking with reporters following the Orioles’ 4-0 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday night when MASN analyst Mike Bordick strolled by to congratulate the Taiwanese pitcher on a job well done.
“Que paso,’” Chen responded – in Spanish – which turned everyone’s head in the hallway toward a smiling Chen.
Yes, the 27-year-old rookie has made a seamless adjustment to the big leagues. He gave one of his best outings of the season Saturday, throwing seven shutout innings and holding the Rays to five hits for his team-high 10th win of the season.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter had said he knew Chen would be able to adjust. He had to make a similar adjustment – to a new country, a new language and a new game – when he went to pitch in Japan.
But this is the major leagues. And of the five Taiwanese pitchers to pitch in the bigs, just four have registered a win, and only Chien-Ming Wang had longevity.
Now four months into his first major league season, Chen continues to progress. And if the Orioles are truly going to stay in the playoff race, Chen must continue to improve.
“He’s got a good understanding of what’s going on up here at this level right now, and we hope to ride it,” Showalter said. “We gave him an extra day this time. It was very tempting to pitch him yesterday but we’re going to be careful with his innings and manage his starts. He was a little sore after the seventh there. Normally, you might think about continuing him, but hopefully that’ll be in September, but like we’ve done all year, we’re going to be careful with him.”
After his last start Sunday, in which he struck out a career-high 12 Oakland A’s, Chen was frustrated by the fact that he lasted just 5 2/3 innings. On Saturday night, he took a different approach. He challenged an aggressive Rays lineup to swing early. He didn’t need strikeouts. He wanted quick outs.
"It always bothers me when a guy goes out and strikes out the side in the first inning, because a lot of times they get in strikeout mode,” Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair said. “Obviously, he had great location against Oakland and pitched extremely well, but his pitch count got up real high and as the game went along they started taking pitches.
“But [Saturday night], the club over here is pretty aggressive and they go against scouting reports. Like withTommy [Hunter on Friday], they know he's going to attack the zone, they know Wei-Yin's going to attack the zone and they come out swinging."
Said Showalter: “I don’t think he gets strikeout hungry. He’s just trying to make quality pitches and he’s got so many counts in his favor.”
Chen has become the de facto ace of the staff, especially with right-hander Jason Hammel out until September recovering from right knee surgery.
And he’s starting to pitch like an ace. He’s 3-1 with a 1.95 ERA in his five starts since the All-Star break with 31 strikeouts and 20 hits over 32 1/3 innings. He’s worked seven or more innings in five of his past six starts on the road, pitching to a 2.53 ERA in that span.
“All the challenges he has to face daily and throughout this first year, you really don't know how anybody is going to respond,” Adair said. “So, is he beyond expectations? I don't know where the expectations were to begin with. He's done well. He's a guy who really works and applies and is prepared. He's much stronger now than he was at the beginning of the season. He's met a lot of challenges. Everything he goes through is new to him, so I don't know about the expectations, but he's done a great job for us."