Sometimes statistics don’t mesh with perception.
In the case of Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen and his struggles in the late innings, things match up.
Chen was cruising on Sunday afternoon when he got to the seventh. He had given up just four hits, a walk and one run through six innings.
He got a strikeout to start the seventh – his fifth of the afternoon. He then walked Michael Saunders and picked him off trying to steal. Chen issued another walk, to eighth hitter, Brendan Ryan, before giving up a two-run, two-out homer to ninth hitter Henry Blanco on his 106th pitch of the game. It came on an 0-2 fastball that Chen said was in the right spot, so maybe he should have chosen another pitch.
Chen rallied to finish the seventh with a ground out. But the game was lost on that one pitch.
Those things happen. But, honestly, those things happen more often to Chen in the late innings.
Consider this: Chen has allowed 10 runs in 39 innings (2.31 ERA) in the first three innings of his 13 starts; he’s allowed eight runs in 35 2/3 innings (2.02 ERA) in the second third of a game; and he’s given up seven runs in 7 2/3 innings (8.22 ERA) in the seventh and eighth. He hasn’t pitched in the ninth this season.
Yes, it’s a small sample size in the seventh and eighth. But it is worth noting. And it’s not like he’s the only pitcher who struggles at the end of a game. That makes sense; guys get tired. Erik Bedard and Koji Uehara were fairly recent examples of good Orioles starters who would tire and lose effectiveness in the latter half of a game.
Chen doesn’t appear to be that extreme. His ERA in the fifth and the sixth innings are under 3.00 – and better than his numbers in the third, for instance.
But it’s definitely worth watching the next time he enters the seventh and eighth.
For the record, Chen said he felt strong in the seventh and Orioles manager Buck Showalter defended keeping his lefty in there.
“He was pitching well, carrying good stuff as evidenced by the next hitter he faced,” Showalter said. “He was throwing the ball well the whole outing. Real proud of him.”