Orioles starting pitchers struggled through the first half, but a big piece of the team's rotation was missing. Lefty Wei-Yin Chen strained his oblique in a start in Minnesota on May 12, and missed nearly two months while recovering.
Now, Chen is back in the rotation and says he feels stronger than ever. He'll start Wednesday for the Orioles, as they look to stabilize the starting staff during the stretch drive.
"Compared with the other starters, I got more rest, so I definitely feel stronger," Chen said through his interpreter, Tim Lin. "So that's why I think I can be strong the second half of the season.
"But I think the most important thing is the mental part. I'm not a rookie anymore. This is my second year and I know how to prepare and get ready. And to me, that's why I can focus more in the second half and pitch good."
Manager Buck Showalter said throwing fewer innings in the first half should help set Chen up for success the rest of the season. But Showalter also cautioned that feeling strong doesn't guarantee results.
"The great thing about our game is the other team tells you how well you're doing," Showalter said. "We're in a little pass-the-baton mentality, but we'll see how it goes."
Chen will face a Royals lineup that has largely struggled this season. They entered Tuesday's game ranked 10th in the American League in on-base percentage and last in the AL in slugging percentage.
Royals pitchers have the sixth-best ERA in the AL, but have been inconsistent of late. Not so for Wednesday's starter, Ervin Santana, who has been solid for the Royals this season and has worked at least six innings in 18 of his previous 19 starts. He is 6-6 with a 3.18 ERA.
After a season-low five innings on July 11th, in which he allowed eight runs against the Yankees, Santana bounced back in a big way in his first start after the All-Star break. He handcuffed the AL Central-leading Tigers for 7 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.
He'll look to turn that into a trend, although he hasn't pitched well historically against the Orioles.
In 14 career starts against Baltimore, Santana is 4-5 with a 5.36 ERA.
Royals: Seeking consistency a priority
• From the starting staff to the offense, it hasn't all come together at once lately for the Royals. That has left the team searching for answers.
They lost five consecutive games entering the All-Star break before taking two of three from the Tigers in the first series after the break. But a 9-2 loss to the Orioles on Tuesday had manager Ned Yost talking about putting together a consistent stretch of baseball, one he hopes began with Tuesday's victory.
"It's time for us to get consistent and start winning baseball games," Yost said. "There's no magic button that we push. I don't lay there with my feet up on the desk and say. 'OK, I'm going to push the magic button, time to go.'"
"We've played a whole half a season and we're almost at the 100-game mark and it's time to win some games. We want to try to find some consistency in our offense, find consistency in our pitching and put together a run."
Orioles: K-Rod likely to join 'pen Wednesday
• The Orioles acquired veteran bullpen help Tuesday, when they landed Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers in exchange for infield prospect Nick Delmonico.
"We like Franky Rodriguez's experience, especially in pitching in the seventh, eighth and ninth inning," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "And he's done it well. He gives us a little more depth to our bullpen."
The 31-year-old Rodriguez is 1-1 with 10 saves, a 1.09 ERA, 26 strikeouts and nine walks in 25 appearances this season.
To make room for Rodriguez on the 40-man roster, the Orioles transferred Nolan Reimold from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list. A 25-man roster move is expected Wednesday.
• Royals left field Alex Gordon broke an 0-for-13 slide with a first-inning single on Tuesday.
• Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts is 11-for-29 (.379) in his career against Santana.
• Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who sat out Tuesday's game, has a five-game hitting streak.
Derek Wetmore is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.