In his seventh start of the season, Wei-Yin Chen looked like the ace the Marlins paid for in free agency.
Chen matched his career high with 12 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings, Justin Bour hit a two-run homer, and the Marlins defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2 on Wednesday night at Marlins Park.
Chen gave up six singles and struck out eight of the nine batters in the Brewers’ lineup — fanning four in a row during the fifth and sixth innings.
“He got ahead in the count a lot,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Chen. “He was pounding the strike zone and then was able to use his slider.”
After Chen began the seventh inning by punching out Hernan Perez to tie his career high, an Alex Presley single and a Colin Walsh walk brought the tying run to the plate and ended Chen’s night. Mattingly summoned Bryan Morris, who allowed Presley and Walsh to score, cutting Miami’s lead to 3-2.
As Walsh crossed the plate on Ryan Braun’s single up the middle, center fielder Marcell Ozuna threw out Milwaukee’s Jonathan Villar at third base to end the inning.
“That Ozuna play is huge because it gets us out of the inning,” Mattingly said. “Every out at that point, in a one-run game, is important.”
Milwaukee’s Chase Anderson matched Chen pitch for pitch through the first four innings. Then, Giancarlo Stanton drew a walk to lead off the fifth and Bour hammered a 1-2 change-up into the Marlins bullpen to drive in the game’s first two runs.
“It’s always frustrating a little bit for me when I see [Stanton] get walked,” Bour said. “I want to make sure that I’m doing my job behind him … so people don’t feel like they can just put him on.”
Ozuna followed Bour’s blast with a double down the right-field line to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. He took third on a wild pitch and scored Miami’s third run on an Adeiny Hechavarria sacrifice fly.
Three runs proved to be just enough for Chen, who signed a 5-year, $80 million contract with Miami in the offseason. He allowed back-to-back singles with one out in the first inning, but stranded both runners and avoided additional danger until the seventh.
“Not allowing any runs in that situation helped my confidence a lot,” Chen said of the first inning. “In the previous game, I allowed some runs in the first inning.”
Chen praised catcher Jeff Mathis’ work behind the plate, both blocking balls and calling pitches. Wednesday marked Mathis’ first time catching Chen.
Ozuna’s throw allowed Miami to escape the seventh, but David Phelps and A.J. Ramos shut the door in the final two innings. Phelps allowed an eighth-inning single before Aaron Hill’s liner found Miguel Rojas’ mitt and became an unassisted inning-ending double play, and Ramos pitched a perfect ninth.
The Marlins won despite matching a season low with five hits. Miami did not record an official at-bat with a runner in scoring position and left only two runners on base, and the Brewers went 1 for 5 with men in scoring position and stranded seven.
Miami finishes its nine-game homestand at 6-3 and has a travel day Thursday before beginning a seven-game road trip in Washington.
“Winning series is what we talk about,” Mattingly said. “It’s such a long year … if we continue winning two out of three the rest of the way, we’re going to be a happy ball club.”
Following an off day Thursday, Tom Koehler is scheduled to start for the Marlins at Nationals Park. Gio Gonzalez is expected to pitch for the Nationals.