Wei-Yin Chen offered a blunt assessment of his 2016 season, his first with the Marlins.
“It was terrible,” Chen said.
It certainly wasn’t what the Marlins envisioned when they signed the free agent left-hander to a five-year, $80 million contract.
For Chen, who was accorded the Opening Day assignment over Jose Fernandez, it was rough from the get-go. On his 25th pitch, he was hit on his left elbow by a sharp shot back to the mound.
Chen stayed in the game, but the pain lingered. He made 18 more starts before landing on the disabled list with a left elbow strain. He finished 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA.
Chen says now that he’s fully recovered from the elbow issues that caused him to spend two months on the disabled list, and that he’s ready to make good on the Marlins’ investment.
“Last year, there were a lot of things going on,” Chen said. “But I think I should just move forward, and I’ll try to focus on what I should do this year instead of thinking about what happened last year.”
Chen acknowledged that he tried pitching through the elbow discomfort, which didn’t help with his results. Manager Don Mattingly said often times Chen would cruise through the first few innings before suddenly falling apart.
“He would be rolling, rolling, rolling and then [he] kind of hit a brick wall a little bit,” Mattingly said.
Chen said the elbow would act up without warning
“During the season there were some times, some situations where I felt a lack of strength on the end of my fingers or my arms, so that maybe caused that breakdown [some] innings,” he said.
Though Mattingly and the Marlins are confident that the pitcher’s elbow problems are behind him, Chen’s outings will be closely monitored. Mattingly said they won’t be caught flat-footed when trouble develops.
“That is one of the things we have a better idea of, how to keep an eye on him and be ready to pull that trigger a little quicker,” Mattingly said.
Mattingly said he’ll have the bullpen on alert and not be afraid to turn to it the moment he senses that Chen is beginning to lose it.
“I think he will be more comfortable after being with a new team, new league,” Mattingly said. “But he really threw the ball well [in 2016]. I think it was a matter of us kind of learning him.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ When Miguel Rojas went home to Venezuela over the winter, he made a commitment to work on his hitting. In particular, the backup infielder wanted to reduce his ground-ball rate.
“I think that’s something that’s been killing my career,” said Rojas, who is better known for his glove than he is for his bat. “I want to put the ball in the air a little bit more this year.”
Rojas did exactly that on Wednesday in the Marlins’ 9-5 victory over Houston in West Palm Beach, knocking in four runs with a three-run homer and a sacrifice fly.
Not that Rojas expects to rival Giancarlo Stanton for power. After all, Rojas has totaled only three home runs in the majors.
But last season Rojas grounded into 10 double plays in only 194 at-bats.
“When I get into situations with runners on first and third, I don’t want to hit a ground ball into a double play,” he said. “I don’t want to be that guy who’s easy to get a ground ball on.”
▪ Rojas wasn’t the only Marlin to go deep in Miami’s first visit to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the new spring training facility of the Astros and Nationals.
Christian Yelich and Isaac Galloway also homered.
Right-handers Tom Koehler and Edinson Volquez covered the first four innings for the Marlins.
▪ Thursday: Marlins LHP Adam Conley at New York Mets RHP Robert Gsellman, 1:10 p.m., Port St. Lucie.
▪ Friday: Marlins (TBA) vs. Washington Nationals (TBA), 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.