When Zach Britton ruptured his Achilles last December and was dealing with the aftermath of trying to rehab and get back to the majors, he received a lot of texts and phone calls from friends.
He also was visited by an old buddy and former teammate – current Miami Marlins lefty Wei-Yin Chen, who has dealt with his own injury woes since he left Baltimore as a free agent after the 2015 season.
“When I got hurt, he stopped by and checked on me. It was good to see him. He’s a guy that pitched so well here for us,” Britton said of Chen. “He’s had some issues in Miami staying healthy, but he’s just a good guy regardless of how he is performing. He’s always been a good teammate and a good friend, so it’s good to see him back here.”
Chen, who will be 33 in July, returns to Camden Yards for the first time in an opposing uniform to pitch Saturday afternoon. The lefty from Taiwan made 117 starts for the Orioles from 2012 to 2015, compiling a 46-32 record and 3.72 ERA.
He parlayed those numbers into a five-year, $80 million deal with the Marlins, but has dealt with injuries – including a partially torn elbow ligament – and has been limited to 40 games in three seasons. He has a 5.01 ERA overall for the Marlins and is 1-3 with a 6.13 ERA in nine starts this season.
That’s much different from his time with the Orioles, when Chen made 31 or more starts in three of his four seasons and never posted a season ERA above 4.07.
“He put up some big-time numbers in our division and helped us win a division and get to the postseason a few times,” Britton said. “It was kind of like I could see why he got (the big contract), going to a National League team, they thought this guy could be a No. 1 for them and help them get to where they wanted to go.”
Chen was a fan favorite in Baltimore and, arguably, the best long-term find in executive vice president Dan Duquette’s Orioles’ tenure.
He also fit great into the clubhouse.
Chen, Britton, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez all bonded while working out in the offseasons in California with strength and conditioning coach Ryo Naito at vice president Brady Anderson’s place.
Because Chen could speak Japanese from his time pitching for the Chunichi Dragons, Naito worked as an interpreter in Japanese and the group communicated well while Chen began to pick up English. His fellow Orioles pitchers did their best to help Chen learn the language – sort of.
“You did the typical thing where you would teach him all the bad words in English before you teach him the stuff he should say,” Britton laughed. “And his wife speaks perfect English and she used to be like, ‘Stop sending him home and teaching him bad stuff. Teach him the right stuff.’ We were like, ‘OK.’”
Britton’s favorite Chen story had to do with teaching him curse words, including a particularly vulgar one that often gets you kicked out of baseball games (according to Bull Durham lore). Chen blurted it out to Orioles manager Buck Showalter while the club was stretching one morning.
“I think Buck called on him in stretch in spring training and he told Buck what we told him to say and Buck just looked at him like, ‘Where did you learn that?’ And (Chen) thought it was the funniest thing ever,” Britton recalled. “He started cracking up. He had no idea what he had just said. It was just one of those funny moments where we were just picking on a guy, but he was great. A good story.”
Chen was a tremendous story while he was in Baltimore.
And now he’ll get a chance to pitch in Camden Yards again, this time against some of his old teammates and the worst offense in baseball.