O's Chen prepared for biggest start of pro career
Taiwanese lefty to face Yankees in Game 2 of ALDS at Camden Yards
BALTIMORE -- When the Orioles signed pitcher Wei-Yin Chen in January, the little-known lefty barely registered a blip on the national radar, while the likes of fellow pitcher Yu Darvish and later, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, become instant celebrities as Major League teams vied to add them.
But Chen, the 26-year-old Taiwan native, and his three-year contract -- which includes a club option for 2015 -- has been a steal for Baltimore, which has relied on the left-hander to help keep a patchwork rotation together. The only O's pitcher to record more than 20 starts this season, Chen will take the mound Monday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS for the biggest outing in his professional career: Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees.
- 2012 Regular Season
- Overall: 12 GS, 5-4, 2.87 ERA, 21 BB, 69 K
- Overall: 32 GS, 12-11, 4.02 ERA, 57 BB, 154 K
- Key stat: His 19 wins and 263 innings are the most in postseason history.
- Key stat: Led O's in wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings and quality starts.
- At Camden Yards
- 2012: N/A
Career: 24 G (23 GS), 16-4, 4.11 ERA
- 2012: 17 GS, 6-6, 4.11 ERA
Career: 17 GS, 6-6, 4.11 ERA
- Against this opponent
- 2012: N/A
Career: 27-6, 3.52 ERA, 253 1/3 IP
- 2012: 4 GS, 1-2, 5.25 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 1-2, 5.25 ERA
- Loves to face: J.J. Hardy, 1-for-15 (.067), 2 K, 0 BB
Hates to face: Adam Jones, 6-for-17 (.353), 1 3B, .824 OPS
- Loves to face: Ichiro Suzuki, 0-for-5, 1 K
Hates to face: Robinson Cano, 3-for-11, 1 HR, 1 2B
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: Allowed two ER or fewer in eight of 12 starts this year; is 5-1 with 2.84 ERA in last 10 playoff starts.
- Why he'll win: Has been team's most consistent starter; O's are 19-13 when he starts.
- Pitcher beware: Hasn't gone more than six innings or thrown 100 pitches in three starts since returning from DL.
- Pitcher beware: Against LHP, Yanks ranked first in Majors in R (272) and HR (78) and second in OBP (.339); Chen allowed seven runs, 3 HR his last start vs. NYY.
- Bottom line: Proven postseason winner.
- Bottom line: Must step up; hasn't won since Aug. 19.
"I'm from Taiwan, I pitched in Japan, and I'm a rookie here," Chen, speaking through interpreter Tim Lin, said on the eve of Game 2, "I never thought of pitching a postseason [game], and this is really a big dream for me."
Chen singled out the support of his teammates on Sunday afternoon and, while the Orioles are very much a sum-of-their-parts group, there is no way the club would be here without him. A relative unknown this spring, Chen made the transition to the Major Leagues with relative ease, picking up English and traveling to Grapefruit League games on the road to help the adjustment process of pitching in different atmospheres. That he went 6-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his first seven regular-season games didn't hurt, either.
Chen, who had a sub-4 ERA through his first 27 starts, took over the No. 1 duties with right-hander Jason Hammel's knee injury and had a seven-start stretch from July to early August in which he pitched to a 2.89 ERA. He struggled down the stretch with a 5.05 ERA in six September/October starts -- the worst ERA in an otherwise impressive rookie campaign, but is coming off of a quality 6 1/3-innings outing last Monday against the Rays.
Given that Chen is used to pitching on five days' rest in Japan, Baltimore tried to push him back whenever possible this season in hopes of keeping him fresh. He will have six days' rest heading into Monday's game at Camden Yards, where he will face a New York team he squared off against -- and lost to -- in his Major League debut.
"He should have some history with them, and we've gotten a return for those times [he's been rested]," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Chen, whose ERA drops from 4.93 to 2.28 when getting six or more days' rest between starts. "He's pitched well. And Ham's ready to go. He is as rested as all of them. The good thing is all three of these guys [in Hammel, Chen and Game 3 starter Miguel Gonzalez] are pitching on a day they can be successful with their track record."
Chen spent the past four years with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan's Central League, going 38-30 with a 2.48 ERA in 117 games (88 starts). The lefty posted a 2.68 ERA in 25 appearances last season and is the first Taiwanese-born player in Orioles history, as first-year executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette continues to ramp up the organization's international efforts.
A member of the Chinese Taipei national baseball team in the 2004 Athens and '08 Beijing Olympics, Chen went 1-0 in two starts in the '08 Games, tossing seven shutout innings in a 5-0 win over the Netherlands. He has a better road ERA (3.91) than at Camden Yards (4.10) and has had plenty of experience pitching on a big stage, in a rather spirited atmosphere like baseball's postseason.
"One of the good things watching him pitch in meaningful games is somehow we think we have a corner here," Showalter said. "These things are big, but ... people talk to me about Latin young players and stuff and guys that have played in Japan, you still got to go out there [and pitch well]. Yeah, he's got experience pitching in front of big crowds in big games."
And if Chen has any say in the matter, he will again after Monday's Game 2.
"It's been a great year to me and to the Orioles, too, and I'm so lucky to be here," Chen said. "I want to give everything to the fans and everything to the city of Baltimore, not only for me. Of course it's been a really amazing year to me. ... I don't want to think too much right now, I just want to keep going, keep going, keep pitching."
Three of Chen's four starts against the Yankees have been at home, his best outing coming May 17 when he pitched seven innings and allowed two runs. He is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA total, buy didn't specify if he would change his approach or try to pitch differently to certain parts of New York's power-laden lineup.
"I'll just go at it my best on the mound [Monday] and I'll leave the rest to my defense," Chen said. "And also, about going against the Yankees, this is the playoffs. I'm not thinking much about it. It's quite different now that we're in the postseason, so we'll see what happens."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.