Chen feels Jose's presence during final start

Marlins lefty works with late teammate's No. 16 on mound

Chen feels Jose's presence during final start

WASHINGTON -- Marlins left-hander Wei-Yin Chen made his 22nd and final start of the 2016 season on Saturday, but when he stepped on the mound, Chen felt like he wasn't alone.

Before throwing his first pitch, Chen touched the No. 16 sketched on the back of the mound as a tribute to Jose Fernandez, who was killed last Sunday in a boating accident. Chen had a solid performance, giving up two runs in five innings in the Marlins' 2-1 loss at Nationals Park.

"It's a complicated feeling out there," Chen said through his interpreter. "This is my last start of the year, and when I stepped out on the mound, seeing the No. 16 on it, and when I touched it, I felt like Jose was right next to me, helping me pitch in this game. I feel like I'm still playing with him."

In their lone season together, Chen and Fernandez developed a close friendship.

Chen wanted to use one of Fernandez's bats in the hope that it would bring him luck at the plate. Chen entered the game hitless in 48 MLB at-bats, including 42 this year.

Fernandez took great pride in his hitting, and Chen was looking for any extra edge to help get his first big league hit.

However, one of Fernandez's bats was not packed by the club when it left Miami on Thursday for the weekend series.

Chen noted that he has the identical model as Fernandez. Unfortunately for Chen, who throws left-handed and has been batting from the right side, he went hitless in two at-bats on Saturday. He finishes 0-for-44 on the season, and hitless in 50 at-bats.

As for his pitching, the way Chen threw was encouraging, considering he was out about two months with a left elbow strain.

"It helps him to establish that he's healthy," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's been able to bounce back."

Chen allowed a run in the first inning on Bryce Harper's RBI single, and in the fifth inning, he gave up a home run to Trea Turner, which proved to be the difference.

"Today, he held the velocity through the game," Mattingly said. "He made the one mistake to Turner. Harper gets him early for one. Obviously, that's the first inning. But after that, he settled down and pitched really well."

Chen finished the season 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA in 123 1/3 innings.

"Today, how I felt out there was more like I was supposed to feel," Chen said. "I'll try to keep that feeling, and go into the offseason and work on the things I need to work on, and get myself ready for next Spring Training.

"I can't guarantee that when I get more familiar with the league, that I will have better numbers. But I do feel like today I felt better than I have the whole year. I'll try to keep this feeling going into the offseason, and hopefully I'll come back strong. I definitely hope I can contribute and win more ballgames next year."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.