Chen at least felt what that would be like on Sunday afternoon when he hit a ground ball up the middle off Mike Leake and legged out an infield single in a 3-0 spring training loss to the Cardinals.
Chen, who played his first four seasons in the American League with the Orioles, is 0 for 50 for his career and has never drawn a walk or been hit by a pitch. He’s reached base only on errors.
Despite the hit not officially counting, that didn’t stop the Marlins from collecting the ball for him and Tom Koehler from writing the date and Leake’s name on it so Chen could keep it.
“I think Koehler is happier than me,” Chen said. “When I came off the field I got in the dugout and [Koehler] told me he had the ball for me and he’d put it in my locker.”
Chen, who is entering the season hoping for drastic improvement in results and durability, hopes to end the hits drought for real this year and limit the big ones he gives up to opposing batters.
After taking a hit on his left elbow in his first start of 2016, Chen posted some of the worst numbers of his career and eventually landed on the disabled list.
Chen went just 5-5 in 22 starts in his first year with the Marlins over 123 1/3 innings, giving up 22 home runs and compiling a career-worst 4.96 ERA, as well as personal worsts in hits per nine innings (9.8) and homers per nine innings (1.6).
“If Chen’s able to get the ball where he wants, I feel good we’re going to get good results,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He challenges the strike zone. He’s going to come after guys. He’s not walking people, and he’s not really giving up that many hits [in the spring].”
But Chen has given up six solo homers this spring, including two more on Sunday — something he acknowledged he is still working on limiting as the season draws closer.
“I think I’m ready for the season, but I’m still having some problems allowing home runs,” Chen said. “I missed some spots there [Sunday], but other than that I feel everything is pretty fine.”
The Marlins, who signed Chen to a five-year, $80 million contract, have him slated to make his first start on April 7 when they open their second series of the season in New York against the Mets.
Chen went 46-32 with a 3.72 ERA in 117 starts over four seasons in Baltimore.
One of his biggest problems last season was achieving sustained success deep into starts.
“I think this year he’s more comfortable because he knows all our guys and knows the National League better now,” Mattingly said. “Health is the main thing with him being able to give us his outing every fifth day. A lot of games he was rolling along and then things kind of turned on him. We can help him with that and be better prepared to have guys ready to go.”
▪ Mattingly said Martin Prado, who sustained a Grade 1 strain to his right hamstring on March 15 while playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, will likely start the season on the disabled list but it’s not clear how long he’ll be out. The Marlins hope Prado can return some time in April. Derek Dietrich is expected to get the majority of playing time at third base in Prado’s absence.
▪ Adeiny Hechavarria was a late scratch from the lineup on Sunday with light back soreness. Hechavarria participated in pregame team workouts but Mattingly wanted to keep him out of the game for precautionary reasons.
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Koehler vs. Mets RHP Zack Wheeler, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins (ss) RHP Edinson Volquez vs. Houston Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter; Marlins (ss) RHP Scott Copeland at Washington Nationals (TBA), 7:05 p.m., West Palm Beach.