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Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen will pitch in his 150th major league game when the Miami Marlins open a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night at Great American Ball Park.
This will be the first time Chen faces the Reds.
And, so far this season, taking on Cincinnati — which own the majors’ worst record at 7-24 — has been a relatively sure way for opposing starters to get a victory.
The Reds have dropped six of eight and will take a three-game losing streak into their first meeting of the season against the Marlins (11-19), who have only four more victories than Cincinnati yet have won six of their last eight.
Chen’s return — he missed nearly a full season with a ligament injury in his pitching arm, although he did not undergo Tommy John surgery — could be a pick-me-up for a Marlins rotation whose failings helped contribute to the the team’s 5-17 start.
Before a 6-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, Miami pitchers had allowed only seven runs in the previous five games.
“When your (starting) pitching has been able to do what they’ve been doing, then we’re getting deeper into games and using our relievers when we need to, and not using them every day,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after Chen beat the Colorado Rockies 4-1 on Saturday in his first start of the season. “It’s just a lot better chance to win a game.”
Chen, in his first start since May 1, 2017, gave up one run in 5 1/3 innings, struck out three and walked two. The win was only the 19th in his last four seasons since Chen went 16-6 for the Baltimore Orioles in 2014. He is 8-6 in three seasons with Miami.
“It’s been a pretty long time since my last start,” Chen said through an interpreter. “I haven’t had this high of a pitch count (68 pitches) or pitched this many innings. So when I went out there, I didn’t want to think too much. I wanted to think of, ‘How do I deal with this hitter and get this out?’ I didn’t want to think about anything else.”
It’s difficult for interim Reds manager Jim Riggleman to think about anything other than his own starting pitching. So far, Cincinnati starters are averaging only a shade above five innings pitched per game and own a 5.50 ERA.
Right-hander Sal Romano (1-3, 4.65 ERA) will oppose Chen, and he’s struggling along with the rest of the rotation. He was forced to throw his fastball for 80 of his 89 pitches while giving up three runs in 4 2/3 innings of a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Saturday.
Romano, however, has had success against the Marlins, limiting them to one run in 9 2/3 innings spanning two career starts. Not many of the current Miami hitters have seen him much; catcher J.T. Realmuto, currently riding an 11-game hitting streak, is 1-for-3 against Chen.
The starters’ struggles are forcing the Reds to carry eight relief pitchers and only four bench players — and second baseman Scooter Gennett‘s sore right shoulder limited them to three position players during a three-game sweep by the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this week at Great American Ball Park.
“You just have to maybe not pinch-hit somewhere you might have (usually),” Riggleman said. “You’re at a point in the game where you can’t afford to be short two innings later when that spot comes up again.
“It’s comforting to know you’ve got that many arms out there (in the bullpen). (But) we’re not comfortable because one of your four (bench players) is going to be your other catcher. You really don’t want to use him until very late. Ideally, we’d like to get back to five guys on the bench.”
The Brewers’ sweep means the Reds have won only one of their nine multi-game series to date; they split another and lost seven. A scheduled two-game series against the Chicago Cubs was cut to one game by bad weather.