Miami Marlins

This Miami Marlins pitcher is no road warrior. Here’s how he’s hoping to change that

Video: Marlins welcome new pitcher Wei-Yin Chen

The Marlins officially introduced pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who will join the starting rotation after signing a five-year, $80 million contract. Video by Pedro Portal.
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The Marlins officially introduced pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who will join the starting rotation after signing a five-year, $80 million contract. Video by Pedro Portal.

First Data Field in Port St. Lucie is no big-league ballpark.

But it is a road ballpark in spring training for the Marlins — home of the Mets — and will serve as an early test to see if pitcher Wei-Yin Chen has exorcised the demons that haunted him all last season.

Chen was awful on the road, going 1-9 with a 9.27 ERA — the highest in the majors. But he was sensational at Marlins Park, where his 1.62 ERA ranked second only to National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom’s 1.54 home ERA.

The home/road disparity, the widest ever by a big-league pitcher with as many starts as Chen’s last season, was a constant source of frustration last season for Chen and the Marlins.

“We’re just going to pitch him on the road the whole spring to get him right,” joked manager Don Mattingly.

In all seriousness, the Marlins and new pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. feel they might have pinpointed the issue with Chen and think they can correct the problem.

In looking over video and pitching charts from Chen’s starts, Stottlemyre said it appeared that Chen pitched differently at Marlins Park than he did out on the road.

Chen is a fly ball pitcher, susceptible to the long ball.

That’s fine in cavernous Marlins Park, where fly balls don’t carry. But in smaller ballparks like Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Chen was lit up.

In those venues, Chen said, “pop ups turn into home runs.”

Chen gave up seven of his 19 home runs last season in those three ballparks even though he made just one start in each.

“He’s a fly ball pitcher, and sometimes it’s not great to be a fly ball pitcher when you’re in Philly,” Mattingly said. “I think Mel kind of felt he pitched to [get] the ground ball, pitched differently.”

Stottlemyre said Chen had issues with one pitch in particular, his two-seam fastball.

“Sometimes will cut and sometimes it will run,” Stottlemyre said. “And sometimes when it cuts, it creeps out over the big part of the plate and becomes a damage pitch.”

Stottlemyre is working with Chen to locate his two-seamer low and away, even if the pitch isn’t thrown for a strike.

“He needs to understand what are good misses,” Stottlemyre said.

Mattingly said Chen is also being told to pitch the same way on the road as he does at home.

“We don’t want him to pitch to the ballpark,” Mattingly said. “We want him to pitch with who he is. He’s been a fly ball guy. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a fly ball guy in Philly. Obviously it’s a little tougher and a little more dangerous because of the size of the park. But we want him to be the same guy all the time.”

Stottlemyre said that, beyond pitching mechanics, part of the issue with Chen last season might have been part mental. Chen never put up such bad road numbers in the past.

“It happens a lot with guys,” Stottlemyre said. “You have a couple of bad games on the road, it gets in your head and your thoughts go in bad places and you start getting away from being you, feeling like you have to be perfect.”

Hamstring injury

Victor Victor Mesa was diagnosed with a Grade 1 hamstring strain, the mildest form. Recovery time is typically two to four weeks, but the Marlins are being extra cautious with the Cuban outfielder, who they signed for $5.25 million during the offseason.

The Marlins removed Mesa out of big-league camp and placed him on minor-league rehab.

“I guess it’s a little disappointing, not going to have a chance to see him through the course of camp,” Mattingly said. “But I think on the cautious side of it, we just want to make sure he’s not trying to rush back. It’s obviously mild. But I think we’ve all had enough experience with hamstrings. They’re never quick.”

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Clark Spencer is one of the nation’s most experienced baseball writers and has covered the Miami Marlins since 1999. He is past-president of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Along with baseball, Spencer has also covered the Summer and Winter Olympics, NBA Finals, NCAA Final Four, College Football Playoffs and Triple Crown.