Offensive Struggles, Episode 32: Chen Paints Mosaic In Shutting Down Rays

August 4, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy (2) and third baseman Wilson Betemit (24) smile and congratulate each other after they beat the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Baltimore Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Strike it out

Sit on down

line it out

Move it down to the bench

Ground it out

Sit on down

Pop it up

Get out what's inside of you

Nobody had fun tonight

(Nobody had fun tonight)

Hardly anyone hit Wei-Yin Chen tonight

(Hardly anyone hit Wei-Yin Chen tonight)

Nobody had fun watching the Rays being shut out 4-0 and being held to two or less runs for the 32nd time in 2012.

The Rays came into this game with the worst collective OPS against left-handed starting pitchers in baseball and one of the worst wOBA's against any type of left-handed pitcher in baseball. We have all seen this team struggle against lefties and any kind of strike-thrower so when you combine the two traits into a single starting pitcher, it is not going too far out on a limb to make this kind of prediction two hours before first pitch:

The Rays had beaten Chen the previous two times they faced him, but he absolutely owned everyone not named Ben Zobrist tonight. Chen threw 100 pitches in seven innings of work, 73 of which were strikes. He generated 12 swings and misses on the nights, eight of which came on fastballs. The lefty's plan of attack was rather simple in that he stayed in on lefties and away from righties for most of the night while moving the ball up and down within the zone. It was not until the sixth inning that the Rays drew a walk off him - something they did nine times over the previous two starts against him.

Chen threw 65 fastballs in the game as he clearly did not feel threatened much by the lineup he opposed. Frankly, can you blame him? After all, Matt Joyce sat the bench while Sam Fuld started in right-field. If you want to argue that Chen has reverse splits, that is fine, but are we really still at the point where Joyce has to sit against lefties while Carlos Pena gets to face them?

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hellickson was as awful as Chen was amazing. For the second time in as many nights, a Rays starting pitcher needed 46 pitches to get through the first two innings of the game. Hellickson threw just 53 of his 88 pitches for strikes and make it just four innings in this contest. Despite 12 swings and misses on the evening, Hellickson frequently missed away to the lefties and low and in to the righties while compounding his mistakes with more two-out struggles.

Hellickson has had his issues pitching in two-out situations in 2012 and came into this game with a .866 OPS in those situations, exceeding the other starting pitchers on the team by at least 51 points. In this game, he faced nine batters in two-out situations and allowed six singles and a walk which led to all four runs the Orioles scored tonight. Only an amazing rifle from Sam Fuld to throw out Matt Wieters at home by plenty prevented an additional two-out run from scoring. This season, opponents have a .299 BABIP and a .288/.388/.500 slash line against Hellickson in 172 two-out plate appearances.

The bullpen was once again outstanding in support scattering just two hits across five innings of work. J.P. Howell continued his run of success striking out four of the six batters he faced as he is now just one scoreless inning shy of matching the all-time team record for scoreless innings by a reliever. That record was set by Joe Borowski in 2005. In all, Rays pitching struck out 12 batters tonight marking the 40th time this season they have done so which leads all teams in the American League and trails only the Washington Nationals that have achieved the feat 42 times.

Offensively, the struggles were more of the same frustrating story from other inept outputs this season. The team managed to put just four runners in scoring position all night and failed to advance them. Carlos Pena's at bat in the fourth was one that stood out as the most frustrating one to watch on the evening. It goes without saying the at bat ended in a strikeout, but the manner in which it evolved made it frustrating.

After a first pitch breaking ball away, Chen hung a second breaking ball directly over the middle part of the plate around waste high that Pena managed to dribble foul toward the home dugout. After fouling off another breaking ball, he swung through a fastball over the heart of the plate, fouled another fastball straight back, and then Chen was able to get Pena to climb the ladder on yet another fastball at the top of the zone that he came up empty on. Pena now has 62 strikeouts in 151 plate appearances against left-handed pitching this season and a sub .600 OPS and yet he was inserted into the fifth spot of the lineup tonight essentially setting him up for this type of run-producing failure.

Pena's struggles against lefties still are not as bad as those of Sean Rodriguez. While Rodriguez did make a rangy play in the fourth to save (at the time) a run by keeping a J.J. Hardy single on the infield, he was once again useless against left-handed pitching. While Rodriguez always had his struggles against right-handed pitching in his career, hitting lefties was the one thing that you could count on with him but that skill has evaporated in 2012. With the three infield pop-ups he had tonight against Chen, Rodriguez now owns a .209/.333/.244 slash line against lefties in 107 plate appearances. That .578 OPS is nearly a 300 point drop-off from his efforts in 2011.

It was reported during the game that Evan Longoria may be back early next week and that Luke Scott should return very shortly thereafter which should help this offense avoid disastrous efforts as we witnessed tonight. A night in which Desmond Jennings saw 11 pitches in four plate appearances as the leadoff hitter while Ryan Roberts went 0-3 with two strikeouts. Roberts is now just 3 for 29 with the team while filling the role of the roster addition that has an early big moment and then goes into the tank. To his credit, Roberts has looked better at the hot corner than the rest of the replacements since Longoria's absence, but his numbers are starting to look a lot like those of Brandon Allen, Drew Sutton, Brooks Conrad, and Hideki Matsui before him.

As easy as it is to point fingers as the unproductive offense, Hellickson did the team no favors tonight with his control problems and continuing his two-out struggles of the 2012 season. After two straight nights of heavy lifting by the bullpen, the Rays need a lengthy start from staff ace David Price tomorrow as he chases his 15th win of the season and looks to help the team win its fourth consecutive series.

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