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BAL@TB: Chen hurls seven shutout innings

The Orioles have tenaciously hung in the race for a spot in the American League playoffs and rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen has stepped forward to become their most consistent starter.

The Royals are coping with the difficulties that come with having the worst record in the American League, but they have hopes that their own young left-hander, Will Smith, can soon do some of the things Chen has accomplished for the Orioles.

The two left-handers will oppose each other on the mound Thursday in the first game of a four-game series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The 27-year-old Chen is 10-6 with a 3.46 ERA for the Orioles, who are in second place in the American League East, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees, and tied with Oakland and Detroit for the Wild Card lead after finishing off a three-game sweep of the Mariners with a 9-2 victory on Wednesday.

He was outstanding in his last start Saturday, shutting out the Rays for seven innings, allowing five hits and striking out four in a 4-0 Orioles victory.

Chen was dominant, lowering his second-half ERA to 1.95 in five starts. He has had five three-ball counts in his last two starts.

He allowed the Rays more than one baserunner in just one inning.

"I feel really, really good pitching in the Major Leagues right now -- not only command, but also the control of all of my pitches," Chen said through his interpreter.

"I'm impressed by how he handles it," catcher Matt Wieters said of Chen's first season in the big leagues. "It doesn't matter if he's won his last five or lost his last five.

"He just goes out there and competes. He's out there to give you innings and give your team a chance to win, which is huge. He's been in some big situations this year, some big games, and they haven't really gotten to him that much."

Pitching coach Rick Adair leaves no doubt he believes Chen is the real deal.

"Obviously, he's got a great feel to pitch, but I think the most amazing thing about [Chen] is how he interacts in this clubhouse and how teammates have accepted him," Adair said. "He's one of the guys, even though there's a huge language barrier."

In seven starts with the Royals after being called up from Triple-A Omaha, Smith is 2-4 with a 6.00 ERA, but he is not discouraged.

In his last outing Saturday against the Rangers, Smith pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits and four earned runs, but came away still feeling optimistic.

"I feel a little step-by-step process," Smith said. "Each day I go with a little something to work on out there and it just keeps coming."

Rangers manager Ron Washington was impressed.

"Finesser, he's a finesser. Not a whole lot of fastball, but he had good secondary stuff, good breaking ball, moved his fastball around," Washington said. "He looked like he's got great mechanics out there. I can see why he can keep his team in a ballgame."

Royals manager Ned Yost also was pleased.

"I thought he threw the ball pretty darn good," Yost said. "He competed well and did a really nice job keeping pitches down and changing speeds against a really tough lineup. Each time out he's getting better."

Royals: Moustakas breaks homer drought
• Mike Moustakas hit his 17th home run of the season in Wednesday's 2-1 victory over the White Sox. It was the first home run since July 13 for Moustakas, whose performance has suffered as he battled against the effects of a bone bruise to his right knee.

Orioles: Machado gets promotion to Majors
• The Orioles plan to purchase the contract of infielder Manny Machado, their first-round selection (No. 3 overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, from Double-A Bowie in time for him to be added to the roster for Thursday's game.

Machado, 20, has batted .266/.352/.438 with 11 home runs and 59 RBIs in 109 games with the Baysox this season, including a .275/.365/.505 line in 91 at-bats since the All-Star break.

• Earlier, the Orioles recalled reliever Miguel Socolovich from Triple-A Norfolk to bolster the bullpen. He takes the roster spot previously occupied by infielder Ryan Flaherty, who was placed on the disabled list with a bacterial infection.

Worth noting
• Wednesday's victory over the Mariners was the Orioles' 60th of the season. They won 69 all of last season.

The have have won five straight and eight of their last 10.

• In Buck Showalter's second full season as manager, the Orioles are on pace to win 87 games, which would be an 18-game improvement over last year's 69-93 mark,

In 2004, Showalter's second full year in Texas, he led the Rangers to an 18-game improvement and in his second full year in Arizona (1999), he led the Diamondbacks to a 35-game improvement.

His second full year in New York (1993) resulted in a 12-game improvement.

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