O's timely hits make a winner of stellar Chen

O's timely hits make a winner of stellar Chen

O's timely hits make a winner of stellar Chen
ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite recording 12 strikeouts last Sunday -- setting a single-game record for a Taiwan-born Major League pitcher -- Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen was far from satisfied. In fact, the 26-year-old was disappointed he didn't pitch deeper into the game, trying to hurry A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes into the batter's box so Baltimore manager Buck Showalter couldn't pull him before the sixth inning came to a close.

There were no quick hooks on Saturday night, as Showalter never got past the railing of the visitors' dugout. Instead, Chen dominated during his seven innings, giving the Orioles just their second quality start in 10 games as Baltimore cruised to a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, knotting the weekend series at a game apiece in front of 20,612.

"He's been outstanding," designated hitter Chris Davis said of Chen, who became just the second Taiwanese pitcher to record a 10-win season in the Major Leagues. "We're real proud of him, and it couldn't happen to a better guy."

Chen's gem moved the Orioles (56-51) right back into a second-place tie with Tampa Bay, 6 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Yankees. It also marked only the third time in the Orioles' last 10 games that a starter had worked at least six innings, a fact not lost on Chen, who called it the "most important part" of his 100-pitch outing.

"I feel really, really good pitching in the Major Leagues right now -- not only command, but also the control of all of my pitches," Chen said through his interpreter.

Chen, who has had five three-ball counts in his past two starts, used an improved changeup to keep the Rays' hitters off balance and scatter five hits and walk. He needed just 82 pitches to get through the first six innings and allowed the Rays more than one baserunner in just one inning. That came with a pair of one-out fourth-inning singles from Ben Zobrist and Jeff Keppinger, but Chen struck out Carlos Pena and got Sean Rodriguez on a foul popout to quash the threat.

"He's got some late life on his fastball," Keppinger said of Chen, who has held the Rays to a .186 average in three starts this season. "It looks like it comes at you a little harder than 91 or 92 [mph], like it says up there. He was doing a good job at spotting up at the bottom of the zone today, and he was getting the call. If a pitcher could put the ball consistently at the knees on the corners, then they're going to be effective."

Chen was dominant, lowering his second-half ERA to 1.95 in five starts in turning in his second scoreless outing of the season. The Orioles' most consistent starter with Jason Hammel (right knee surgery) on the disabled list, Chen threw 100 pitches, giving Baltimore a shot in the arm as he continues to be a pleasant surprise in his first Major League season.

"I'm impressed by how he handles it," catcher Matt Wieters said of Chen's first season in the big leagues. "It doesn't matter if he's won his last five or lost his last five; he just goes out there and competes. He's out there to give you innings and give your team a chance to win, which is huge. He's been in some big situations this year, some big games, and they haven't really gotten to him that much."

Added pitching coach Rick Adair: "Obviously, he's got a great feel to pitch, but I think the most amazing thing about [Chen] is how he interacts in this clubhouse and how teammates have accepted him. He's one of the guys, even though there's a huge language barrier."

The Orioles broke down another barrier, hitting with runners in scoring position to back Chen's effort. Wieters' first-inning RBI single snapped the club's 0-for-22 skid in such situations, and all four of the O's runs came with two outs against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, who exited after four innings.

"The two-out RBIs are always a momentum [builder] for you and a morale breaker on the other side, because they're so close to getting out of the inning," Showalter said. "Guys are pressing so hard, trying to get it done. It's not like it's 'que sera, sera.' It will just happen sometime. They're grinding every day."

Nick Markakis continued his torrid stretch in the leadoff spot, working a pair of walks and driving in Nate McLouth for a second-inning run with a single. McLouth -- who had his contract purchased prior to the game -- doubled in his first at-bat with the Orioles and added a single in the eighth, and Davis plated a pair of runs with a fourth-inning single.

"I feel like we are having a lot more fun these last couple weeks than we did going into the All-Star break," said Davis, who extended his career-high hitting streak to nine games with a two-hit night.

"We are a lot more relaxed. We really enjoy what we are doing at the ballpark now and enjoy all the rewards received for our hard work."

One of the moments the O's enjoyed the most was watching Wieters record a career-high two stolen bases. Wieters -- who entered the game with just two stolen bases in his career -- became the first O's catcher since Johnny Oates on June 10, 1972, to record a multi-steal game.

"He's playing it up pretty good right now," Showalter said of Wieters. "He's got some people trailing him right now. He's telling them to read the box score tomorrow, that there will be two next to his name."

Wieters, who was thrown out at the plate after his third-inning steal, said he dished out some teasing and got plenty in return.

"[It's] a little bit of both," Wieters said. "That's what it's always going to be in baseball. A hard time, and then congratulations at the same time."

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.