For Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen, the line between good and great Saturday night was as thin as one strike. Chen was close, very close, to a very good outing and by most standards, Chen turned in a serviceable performance in the Orioles 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.
“He pitched pretty good,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
“Pitched good,” centerfielder Adam Jones said.
But it wasn’t great.
“Edwin [Jackson],” Jones said, “threw a great game.”
Jones even texted Jackson after the game to tell him so.
Good, it turns out, is five innings, six hits and three runs, two earned. Great is 6.1 innings, four hits and one earned. Good is a loss. Great is a win. Chen, who dropped to 7-3 on the year, attributed the loss to a failure to win two-strike battles.
“Physically, mentally and mechanically, I felt really great, but I got in some trouble after two strikes,” Chen said through interpreter Tim Lin. “I cannot finish out.”
That’s a curious thing to say for a pitcher who surrendered just two hits with two strikes in the count. Chen ran the count to two strikes on 13 batters, and he converted 11 of those into outs.
But one of those two hits haunted Chen. In the top of the second inning, Chen quickly rung up two strikes against the leadoff man, designated hitter Michael Morse. But Morse battled.
Fastball, foul. Curveball, ball. Two more fastballs, foul. One more curve, foul again.
Then, on the eighth pitch of the at bat, Morse lined a single to right field. That would have been benign enough for Chen, who retired two of the next three batters. But a single by Xavier Nady with two outs, and an error on the same play by third baseman Wilson Betemit, led to two Nationals runs.
Those two runs would be all Washington needed.
“He should have given up, what, one run?” Showalter said. “He pitched well enough to win. We just couldn't do much with Jackson.”
Chen’s only other mistake (the one run Showalter credited him for) came in the fourth inning, this time on a 1-0 count, when Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche turned on a Chen fastball for a solo home run. Of LaRoche’s 13 home runs this season, four have come against lefties (the other three coming off of Pittsburgh’s Erik Bedard and Tony Watson and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw).
Chen exited the game after five innings, both because he ran his pitch count up to 90 and because a comebacker cut his left index finger. After the game, Chen said the finger was not a big issue, but Showalter chose to exercise caution.
If Chen could be happy about one thing after Saturday, it’s that he won’t have to face the Nationals again in the regular season. Of Chen’s three losses this season, two have them have come against Washington.
“They have a very good lineup and a really good pitching staff,” Chen said. “I didn’t have good control and good command today, and they’ll find out about it right away.”
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