CHICAGO - Orioles manager Buck Showalter still throws the best curveball in the organization.
Just when you thought he was going to start Miguel Gonzalez last night, he went with Chris Tillman. You thought Gonzalez might be the pitcher listed as TBA tonight, and it turned out to be Wei-Yin Chen.
Chen will take his regular turn despite Showalter’s preference to give him extra rest. Tillman is starting Monday on five days rest despite Showalter’s preference to keep him on four.
Knee-buckling curveballs. Caught looking with bat on shoulder. Walk of shame back to the bench.
Gonzalez is starting Sunday and Ubaldo Jimenez is headed to the bullpen. It seemed to be a matter of when, not if, on both counts.
Gonzalez deserves more turns, having posted a 3.80 ERA in 20 games and allowing two earned runs or fewer in five of his last six starts. Jimenez couldn’t continue to start for a team making a vigorous playoff push, not with command and results lacking.
Jimenez rates as one of the nicest guys in baseball. He’s a hard worker, a terrific teammate. But none of that matters on Aug. 20 when the Orioles are trying to run away with the American League East and gain home-field advantage.
He’s got to understand the team’s predicament. Tillman, Chen, Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman must stay in the rotation. There’s no way to rationalize moving one of them into the bullpen while Jimenez is fighting the same command issues.
Chen will make his 24th start of the season and his 12th on the road, where he’s gone 6-2 with a 3.90 ERA. He’s 1-0 with a 3.13 ERA in four career starts against the White Sox, with five walks and 23 strikeouts in 23 innings. In his only start in Chicago, he earned the win after allowing two runs over 5 1/3 innings.
Dayan Viciedo is 3-for-8 with two doubles and a home run against Chen. Alexei Ramirez is 3-for-10 with two doubles.
Over his last six starts, Chen has issued six walks and struck out 33 batters. He’s served up only two home runs in his last four outings.
Chen most recently held the Indians to one run over seven innings. He’s worked seven or more innings in three of his last four starts.
Showalter isn’t pushing Chen back this week. The lefty has a career 4.30 ERA in 37 games on four days rest, a 3.89 ERA in 25 games on five days and a 3.29 ERA in 16 games on six-plus days.
In 2014, Chen has a 3.90 ERA in 11 starts on four days rest, a 1.93 ERA in three starts on five days and a 4.25 ERA in nine starts on six-plus days.
Besides his sudden ability to get through the seventh inning, Chen has been most impressive in the way he’s handled left-handed hitters. They were batting well over .300 against him earlier this summer, but the average is down to .289 going into tonight’s game.
White Sox right-hander Hector Noesi has reverse splits, with right-handers batting .309 against him and left-handers hitting .242.
Noesi is 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in eight games (three starts) against the Orioles, with 31 hits, nine walks and 17 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings.
Nick Markakis is 3-6 lifetime against Noesi, Adam Jones is 3-for-7 with a home run, Nelson Cruz is 2-for-8 with a home run and Nick Hundley is 2-for-5.
Markakis’ 10-game hitting streak ended last night.
Steve Pearce has registered five extra-base hits in his last three games.
The Orioles pitching staff has recorded a 2.40 ERA in 45 innings on this trip. The Orioles are 11-5 over their last 16 road games and 38-26 this season.
No matter what happens tonight, the Orioles are assured of winning nine of their last 10 series. But you can be certain that they want the sweep.
They have the best record in baseball outside of the American League West.
They didn’t get here by settling.