As well as Wei-Yin Chen pitched through his first seven innings in a 4-3 loss to the Royals on Wednesday night, one of the main storylines of the night ended up being how the Orioles couldn’t score more runs off Kansas City starter Ervin Santana.
Santana has historically had a penchant for giving up homers, which you would think would play into the Orioles' hands since they lead the majors with 137 homers.
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But Santana, who allowed a majors-worst 39 homers last season for the Angels, has cut down on allowing the long ball. Yes, he’s allowed 17 in 19 starts this year, but you take away back-to-back starts against Los Angeles and St. Louis – when he yielded a combined seven homers – and he’s only allowed 10 in other 18 starts.
Also, Santana’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is his best since 2008 and he had a 2.89 ERA at home this season.
So maybe that’s why Orioles manager Buck Showalter chose to play small ball early. Maybe that’s why Manny Machado, who has 133 hits on the season, dropped a sacrifice bunt after Nate McLouth led off the game with a double.
With two on and no outs in the eighth, Machado dropped another bunt to move the runners over. The Orioles only scored one run that inning, taking a 3-1 lead. That seemed to be enough at the time, especially given the way Chen was pitching and that the 'pen wouldn’t need to log many innings. But it wasn’t.
It was a far cry from the go-for-the-jugular offense the Orioles showed off in Texas, where they circled the bases on the Rangers and took advantage of their mistakes.
Sure, the Orioles scored two unearned runs on Matt Wieters’ two-run homer in the second, which came with two outs after Adam Jones reached on an Eric Hosmer fielding error. But the Orioles also had runners on first and second with no outs in the second, partially because of a Chris Getz fielding error, but didn’t score that inning because of one of the three double plays on the night.
“We just got to swing the bats better,” Showalter said. “We are not a club that’s completely dependent on the home run. We can do some things. There’s two sides to it, you got to do some things to get people out there and you then you got to get them in. So, we have pretty consistently this year; just the last couple games we haven’t done it.”
Chen allowed two home runs to Hosmer, which truly proved to be the difference. He hadn’t allowed two homers in his first 10 starts this season.
He was forced to work behind in the count both times. And on Hosmer’s game-tying home run in the eighth inning, Chen threw a 2-1 pitch that was right in Hosmer’s hot zone. According to his hot zone chart on ESPN.com, Hosmer hits .353 on balls at the knees and on the inner third of the plate.
“I think the location was OK,” Chen said of the pitch through interpreter Tim Lin. “But I think I can do better. Obviously tonight, he swung the bat really well. He’s a really good hitter.”
Still, Chen earned the right to face Hosmer there. Darren O’Day was already warming up and said after the game that he was coming in to face the next hitter, Billy Butler, regardless.“He was really good,” Showalter said of Chen. “I think their gun is a little high here but he still threw the ball well. He was the difference tonight. We didn’t score much and to still have a lead at some point, that’s [an] attribute to Santana and to Chen. They pitched well. We just didn’t score enough runs.”