SEATTLE – Going into the Orioles’ series opener in Seattle Thursday night, the talk was about Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, but O’s left-hander Wei-Yin Chen stole the spotlight in the 4-0 win.
Chen was dominant through eight shutout innings, allowing just five singles in his longest outing of the season. Of the six baserunners he allowed, just one got past first base.
It was as dominating as we’ve seen Chen this season, who tied a career high for innings pitched in a start. Last season, he threw eight shutout innings and allowed just two hits in a 3-0 loss in Oakland on April 26.
Chen agreed that this was his best outing of 2014.
“I would say it is,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “[Catcher] Caleb [Joseph] really called a good game so I was able to pitch a good game. I know my teammates played really well behind me and that’s the reason we had such a great game out there.”
Over his last four starts, Chen is 4-0 with a 2.92 ERA, though he's pitched at least six innings in only two of those appearances.
Chen helped out with his defense Thursday, especially on a play at the plate in the first inning.
With speedy leadoff man James Jones at third base, Robinson Cano hit a slow nubber in front of the mound. Chen charged the ball, scooped it with his glove and in one motion tossed it to Joseph at the plate in time for Joseph to lay the tag down on a sliding Jones for the out. The call was reviewed by a crew-chief initiated replay, but stood.
“Since all the way back to spring training, [Orioles manger] Buck [Showalter] 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.”
Chen also made a nice defensive play to end the fifth inning, when he made a leaping snag of a high chopper back to the mound off the bat of Jones. Had Chen not made the grab, the ball was heading up the middle for a base hit and would have put two on with two outs.
“I don’t know if I’m a good defensive player or not,” Chen said. “I just try to get the ball and make a good throw. That’s all."
His defense also stood out to Showalter.
“Wei-Yin made about four real athletic plays that most pitchers don't make and it’s a real difference-maker,” Showalter said. “You work on it all spring and try to carry it over, but it has more to do with his talent. … One of the Seattle announcers was asking me, 'give me a quick [report] on Chen.' I said 'athletic, really good defender and runs well.' And all of those things came into play tonight. Made me look like I knew him.”
Said Joseph: “I asked [Mariners catcher Mike] Zunino if there were two more athletic pitchers on the mound. Asian pitchers take pride in their defense and Wei-Yin has been doing it since he got here. Their guy made a good play. But he got himself out of a jam and he’s been doing it all year and I look forward to him doing it more.”