BALTIMORE -- It didn't happen immediately, but Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen is slowly emerging this season as the pitcher who excelled for the club in its surprising playoff run.
That could be a huge development for a team that sits alone, at least temporarily, atop the American League East standings in early May.
Chen tied a season high with seven strong innings Friday night as the Orioles beat the Houston Astros, 4-3, before an excitable, announced crowd of 28,875 at Camden Yards.
The first-place Orioles (19-14) have won a season-high four and seven of their past nine games; the Astros (11-25), baseball's worst team, have dropped eight of 10.
After giving up eight runs total in his first two starts of the year, Chen (4-2) has yielded a combined 10 runs in his past five starts and has won four of five decisions. His ERA is now 3.95 for the season.
On Friday, he allowed just two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out four. Former Oriole L.J. Hoes hit a sacrifice fly in the third and Chris Carter homered in the seventh against Chen, who again succeeded by getting his breaking pitches over for strikes.
Chen was locked into a pitchers' battle heading into the bottom of the seventh, but the Orioles scored twice against veteran reliever Jerome Williams.
Rookie Jonathan Schoop broke the tie with a two-out single to score J.J. Hardy. It was Schoop's fourth RBI in the past three games, after driving in none in his previous eight contests.
Nick Markakis followed with a RBI double to score Schoop. Markakis had three more hits in the game, extended his hitting streak to 16 games. He's hitting .354 with two homers and eight RBIs in that span.
Darren O'Day threw a scoreless eighth in relief of Chen before closer Tommy Hunter, pitching for the third time in four nights, picked up his 11th save. In classic Hunter fashion, it wasn't easy.
The big right-hander pitched around a leadoff double and allowed a run, but induced a double play and strikeout to preserve the victory.
The Orioles scored twice in the third with two solo homers against Houston right-hander and former teammate Scott Feldman, who was activated from the disabled list Friday after dealing with right biceps tendinitis.
Steve Pearce, who is filling in at first base for the injured Chris Davis, continued his hot streak, homering just over the left-field wall to tie the score at 1. It was Pearce's third homer this season and third in four games. It also was the first time in his career he had homered on consecutive days.
Three batters later, Manny Machado hit a 2-2 changeup into the Orioles bullpen beyond center field to give the Orioles the lead. Machado, who made his season debut May 1 after missing a month while rehabilitating from offseason surgery, had had just four singles and no extra-base hits or RBIs in his first 27 at-bats.
Besides those two pitches, Feldman threw well in his return from injury. Entering the night with a 2-1 record and a 1.69 ERA in four starts for Houston, Feldman lasted six innings Friday in the no-decision. He allowed two runs on four hits while walking none and striking out six.
The Orioles acquired Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger last July from the Chicago Cubs for pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Feldman was 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts with the Orioles in 2013 before signing a three-year, $30 million free-agent deal with the Astros in December.
The Orioles said they wanted him back but never made an offer, presumably because they knew the 31-year-old was in line for a big payday.
"Everybody liked Scott. We would have liked to have brought him back. We knew his timing of going out on the market ... was real, real good," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I thought he might get what he got. He is pretty solid. God bless him. His timing was perfect, and I would have done the same thing he did."
Showalter was asked before the game whether he thought his offense or Feldman would benefit most from the familiarity between the two.
"I am looking forward to finding out," Showalter said. "I'm never quite sure who has that advantage. Usually, it leans to the pitcher."
Both starting pitchers were seemingly in charge Friday.
But the Orioles' offense, and their bullpen, were a little bit better.
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