MINNEAPOLIS — The Orioles played one of their better all-around games of the young season Sunday, using three homers and strong pitching to shut out the Minnesota Twins, 6-0, while capturing their ninth series victory in 12 opportunities.
And yet the Orioles fly out of Minnesota for an extended homestand with the potential of losing their most consistent starting pitcher — Taiwanese lefty Wei-Yin Chen — for a few weeks.
"I don't even want to think about it," said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis.
Chen, who is 3-3 with a 3.04 ERA in eight starts in 2013, left Sunday after five shutout innings with a soreness in his right side that he and Orioles manager Buck Showalter hope was a cramp, but initially has been diagnosed as a right oblique strain.
He'll be re-evaluated Monday and the club will have a better idea whether he can make his next start or if Chen will have to be placed on the 15-day disabled list — which would be a big blow to an already uncertain rotation.
"Let's wait and see," Showalter said after Sunday's victory that gave the Orioles a 3-3 season split with the Twins. "I'm going to think good things. I was just telling Wei-Yin that. [His side] feels a little better now."
Chen allowed five hits while walking none and striking out three for his third win in four decisions before feeling a pain he described as "soreness."
"It's never happened to me before and I can tell I had a really good first four innings and I definitely feel good physically," Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. "Unfortunately, in the fifth inning, I don't know what happened."
By the time Chen left, the Orioles (23-15) had a five-run lead and were heading toward their seventh victory in 10 games. The scoring was paced by home runs from Adam Jones, Steve Pearce and Davis against Twins starter Scott Diamond (3-3).
Davis' 442-foot, two-run blast off the batter's eye wall in straightaway center gave the Orioles a lead in the first that they never relinquished.
"It was a very clean game," said Davis, who drove in three more runs and now has 37 RBIs and 11 homers this season. "We have been swinging the bats well the last few days. Feels good to win the game by a pretty big margin."
Perhaps the biggest offensive star was — again — the afternoon's youngest: Orioles' 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado, who had three of the club's 11 hits. He had nine hits in 16 at-bats in the three-game series against the Twins and is now hitting .405 (34-for-84) in his past 19 games, which have included 12 multi-hit efforts.
"I'm not even paying much attention to it. I don't look up there and see what I'm hitting," said Machado, who is batting .331 on the season. "Things are going right. It's one of those times when things are falling for you and everything is going good. Things have been going pretty good for me."
Call that an understatement.
Machado, 20, is the first big league player under age 21 to record three consecutive games of three or more hits since Pittsburgh Pirates' 21-year-old Rennie Stennett in September 1971.
If he can get three more hits in Tuesday's contest against the San Diego Padres at Camden Yards, he'll be the fourth player in Orioles history to accomplish the feat in four straight games, joining Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. and outfielder Don Buford.
"That'd be awesome. That would be pretty cool to be in that category," Machado said. "You have Hall of Famers there, so to be in the same category with them would be a blessing."
Showalter made a point of lauding the club's entire effort, including a staunch defense and a bullpen that again accumulated zeroes.
Tommy Hunter entered in relief of Chen and didn't allow a run in the sixth, upping his scoreless inning streak to 15 2/3 over 10 appearances. Darren O'Day, Brian Matusz and Pedro Strop combined to shut out the Twins for the final three frames.
It was the second shutout of the season for the Orioles — both started by Chen. The Twins (17-17) had been blanked only one other time this year.
Now the Orioles, after playing 14 of their past 17 on the road — and winning nine of them — get to come back to Camden Yards for eight home games in 10 days.
"We've just got so many bridges to cross, but you look at the schedule when the season starts, you look at this [past] stretch and you know it's going to be a challenge, especially the teams we're playing," Showalter said. "It should be a good off-day for our guys [Monday]. We should get back at a decent hour and I'm happy for them. They deserve it. Been a real grind for them for the last three weeks."
Things have gone rather well so far for the Orioles, who many pundits expected to step backward after last year's surprising 93-win season.
Yet in what might be one of their finest victories of the season — their second largest victory margin of the year — the specter of potentially losing the rock-solid Chen remains.
"That's one thing we are really trying to get squared away is our pitching staff. Trying to get some guys in here, throw some innings, eat up some innings and take some pressure off our bullpen," Davis said. "That's what he was doing today. So, I don't even want to go there with that."