Author Libba Bray wrote, “And that is how change happens. One gesture. One Person. One Moment in time.” After tonight’s 6-1 win over the Texas Rangers, the 7 innings pitched by Wei-Yin Chen may just have been that gesture, that moment in time that changed the fortunes of the Orioles.
A 2nd consecutive season of musical starting pitchers has clearly started to take a toll on the team, while the inability of the starters to get deep into ballgames has left the Orioles with a tired bullpen. Along with the return of Chen tonight, the team called up RHP Josh Stinson to bring a fresh arm to the pen, while optioning Zach Britton & Kevin Gausman to AAA Norfolk. A long, strong outing was what the team needed, and that’s what they received from Wei-Yin Chen. Over his seven innings of work, Chen allowed just one run on four hits. He did walk three batters but he struck out four. More than his production, however, the energy that Chen brought to the mound seemed to emanate all over the field. Everyone seemed to have a little more oomph, a little more pop, even when they made outs.
As Mike Bordick said on the telecast, Chen had been chomping at the bit to get back on the mound and help the Orioles get back to the postseason. He missed 53 games and has had a front row seat for the team’s pitching struggles. The key word he used was “stabilizing the rotation,” and that’s just what Chen did tonight.
A stable pitching performance allowed the Oriole bats to finally come alive, something that hadn’t happened since the calendar turned to July. Manny Machado continued his hitting tear with a single in the 1st, a massive triple in the 3rd to drive in the game’s first run, and another single in the 4th. He now has 36 multi-hit games this season, 13 of those being 4-hit games.
Also having big nights were Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold. Reimold wasn’t originally supposed to start the game, but he was inserted at DH when Chris Dickerson strained his left shoulder during batting practice (according to the team, Dickerson will have an MRI Friday to determine the extent of the injury). In the 3rd inning, Brian Roberts hit what might have been the world’s longest single when his ball just missed bouncing off the top of the wall for what would have been a 3-run home run (Matt Wieters & J.J. Hardy were aboard after drawing two of the team’s season high seven walks, Wieters scored on the play). Replay showed that the ball did, in fact, miss the top of the wall, but in the hesitation, Hardy & Roberts had to stop at 3rd and 1st. They were aboard for Reimold’s 3rd home run, his fifth of the season and first since May 4th in Anaheim that doubled a 3-0 lead to 6-0.
Once again, things got shaky in the 6th inning when Chen allowed the Rangers’ only run, but the six runs already on the board gave Chen enough of a cushion to keep his composure and get out of the inning without any major damage. Chen left the game having thrown 100 pitches and lowering his ERA to 2.82. Tommy Huntercame in and threw a beautiful 2 innings of 1 hit ball to seal the victory, including a 1-2-3 8th inning.
The Orioles as a whole looked much more patient at the plate tonight, forcing Texas starter Josh Lindblom to throw a lot of pitches in the first four innings, including 31 just in the bottom of the first.
Chris Davis is still struggling, he’s in the middle of his second 0-16 (1-22 overall) stretch of the season with 13 strikeouts. He hasn’t recorded a hit since MLB announced him as the overall leading vote-getter for next Tuesday’s All Star Game. When he snapped his first 0-16 slump, he hit seven homeruns in his next 10 games. He will enter the Home Run Derby as one of the favorites alongside Prince Fielder, Carlos Gonzalez, and Robinson Cano. It will be interesting to see if this slump (and the cold he is apparently fighting) will continue to affect in going into the break.
Still in need of work is the team’s ability to hit consistently with runners in scoring position. While they did score six runs, they left 10 men on base, 10 potential runs stranded. The 2-9 overall with runners in scoring position will not cut it long-term.
Brian Roberts, Adam Jones & Nate McLouth seem to be regaining their timing. Each had hits tonight made with strong contact, something the team desperately needs at the top and bottom of the order. Matt Wieters is still trying to heat up, he hit a couple of balls tonight that just about left the ballpark.
Miguel Gonzalez will aim to build off the solid win tonight as he takes the mound tomorrow against former Oriole farmhand Josh Wolf. Wolf is replacing ace Yu Darvish, who is headed to the DL with a strained upper back. That will take Darvish out of the AL rotation of the All Star Game as well.
On a lighter note, for anyone on Manny Machado doubles watch, he didn’t hit one tonight. He currently has 39 and is on pace for 69, which would, in fact, break Earl Webb‘s record of 67 that was set in 1931.