Chen, Hunter get valuable regular-season prep
Projected starters have mixed results in Sunday outings
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles concluded their Grapefruit League season on Sunday afternoon and manager Buck Showalter was pleased with the overall health of the players in camp, particularly the pitchers.
"I feel better about where we are pitching-wise, depth-wise and health issues," Showalter said when asked to compare last spring with this one. "We still got three more games, and if you had told me going into the last three games that we would have only one guy [hurt] who you figured might be in late spring competing for a job in [Zach] Britton, I'd feel good about that. That's encouraging compared to where we were."
Starters Wei-Yin Chen and Tommy Hunter both got their work in Sunday, with Chen throwing five innings against the Rays and Hunter going six in a Minor League intrasquad game at Twin Lakes Park. Chen allowed three home runs and was tagged with seven runs (three earned) on six hits and a pair of walks.
"I'd never seen the wind blow in as much this spring, and we were due for one of those days," Showalter said of Sunday's power surge, which included eight home runs from the two teams combined. "[Chen] should have given up two runs. I thought his fastball was crisper. It's gotten that way each time out. Something there you can work with. He pitched pretty well, for the most part."
Chen, who has been working on several adjustments with pitching coach Rick Adair, said he wasn't worried about the final stat line. That line wasn't helped by J.J. Hardy's error, which extended the fourth inning and set up Desmond Jennings' two-out grand slam.
"I'm working on my offspeed pitch, like my changeup, a lot," Chen said through his interpreter. "Also, my timing's really important for me right now. So, I'm still working with Rick on my timing, delivery stuff [and] mechanics."
The 26-year-old Chen is expected to be in the Orioles' rotation, barring anything unforeseen, and will be joined by Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Hunter. The team's fifth spot appears to be going to lefty Brian Matusz, although Tsuyoshi Wada will start Tuesday and is still a candidate.
Signed to a three-year contract this winter out of Japan, Chen is a Taiwanese lefty who has made significant strides this spring in adjusting to his first Major League camp.
"He's handled the adjustment well," Showalter said. "I think both [him and Wada] have, and I'm proud of him and our guys for that. We made his path a lot easier, but the biggest adjustment of all is coming next, when they add that third deck on [in Major League stadiums]."
Hunter allowed two runs (one earned) over six innings and Adair's son, Travis, squared up a ball pretty good on him, which Showalter and Hunter joked about later.
"How does a pitching coach let his son hit a guy who's confidence we are trying to get up?," Showalter said with a grin.
Hunter said he felt good about the outing and was particularly focused on his changeup, which he threw "about 11 times in a row" at one point. The right-hander lines up as an Opening Day possibility, and although it's been widely speculated to be Arrieta, Hunter is another candidate.
"There's, I think, four guys that have enough adequate rest to pitch on that day, but that's not our decision," Hunter said. "One thing I try to do is take care of the things I can control. And that's about as out of my control as I can get. Not worried about it. Not thinking about it. Whoever gets it, hopefully the Orioles come out with a 'W.'"
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.