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Wei-Yin Chen: 'I’m about 80 percent right now'

March 21, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Miami Marlins pitcher Wei-Yin Chen said he believes his game is at 80 percent right now, and if you looked at his pitching line on Thursday, it lines up with his assessment. In his final Spring Training outing, Chen pitched scoreless baseball for four of

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Miami Marlins pitcher Wei-Yin Chen said he believes his game is at 80 percent right now, and if you looked at his pitching line on Thursday, it lines up with his assessment.

In his final Spring Training outing, Chen pitched scoreless baseball for four of his five innings -- 80 percent -- but allowed five runs in Miami’s 6-0 loss to the New York Mets. Chen was victimized by a lack of control, left-handed batters and the long ball.

Wilson Ramos hit a double on a 3-0 pitch to lead off the bottom of the second, and Michael Conforto hit a deep homer on a 2-0 pitch in the next at-bat. After allowing a single and hitting Amed Rosario in the foot with a curveball, pitcher Steven Matz struck out swinging, but Brandon Nimmo swatted a three-run homer to right for a 5-0 lead.

“Maybe I need to change a little bit about my pitch selection,” said Chen. “I used a lot of [my] fastball and slider. I did fall behind a little bit and did miss my spots some. One crucial thing after the [first] home run was I hit a batter. That really came back and hurt me.

“The things I need are gradually coming back to me … I feel [like] I’m about 80 percent right now.”

Miami manager Don Mattingly wasn’t discouraged at all by the start.

“Not so bad,” Mattingly said. “He was a little bit behind in the count. He just didn’t locate on the home runs. He started using his breaking ball more later in the game to kind of slow them down a little bit. That’s a key for him.”

The Mets lit Chen up for five earned runs in his first appearance against them back on Feb. 27, a game New York won 14-6. Chen was also tagged hard in his second and third starts this spring, allowing 12 hits and seven earned runs in just six combined innings pitched.

Worst yet is the lack of reliability with Chen, who is just 13-18 in the last three seasons with the Marlins. Instead of approaching 200 average innings worked per 162 games -- a reasonably common mark for starting pitchers these days -- he has averaged fewer than 100 frames over the three campaigns, posting just 289 2/3 total innings pitched.

That lack of durability means he is part of a group of seven pitchers vying for five spots in Mattingly’s rotation. Jose Urena and Dan Straily occupy the top two positions, and Chen and righty Pablo Lopez share the same throwing day and line up for the season’s third game.

Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Richards and Caleb Smith are the others in the mix.

A case could certainly be made for slotting one of Lopez (3-0, 0.90) or Chen (0-2, 9.37) into the rotation a week from Saturday against the Colorado Rockies, and the other being sent to the bullpen.

Chen’s March 9 relief appearance in Palm Beach, Fla., against Washington gave the staff a glimpse of what the 33-year-old Taiwanese southpaw is capable of and the caliber of stuff he showed in Baltimore, where he spent 2012-’15. Chen worked four innings of one-hit, scoreless ball in the most promising of his four previous spring outings.

In his four seasons with the Orioles, Chen tallied a 46-32 record in 117 starts, approaching 200 innings on three occasions. He has just four relief appearances in his 174 Major League games.

“Of course, I’m more comfortable pitching as a starter, but whatever the manager wants. I would just try to make the adjustment,” Chen said.

“But I feel more comfortable pitching as a starter.”