With two HRs in as many games, Wells' bat catches up to his defense

September 27th, 2023

TORONTO -- From ’ first hours in the big leagues, the rookie catcher poured almost every ounce of energy into his defensive work, embracing an opportunity to call games for the best pitchers he’s ever caught. He believed the bat would come around soon enough; it always had before.

So as Wells opened eyes early in this September audition, showcasing a stronger arm and more authoritative presence than many expected, he was also studying how opponents attacked him. That attention has paid off.

Wells snapped a scoreless tie with a two-run, opposite-field homer in the ninth inning off Jordan Romano, lifting the Yankees to a 2-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.

“It’s unbelievable,” Wells said. “Coming in here and having a hit like that in the late innings is what you play the game for. It felt good, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to be out there in that situation.”

With five games remaining, the Yankees own an 80-77 record, needing just one victory to avoid what would be their first losing season since 1992.

It was the third Major League homer for the 24-year-old Wells, who is rated as the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline and could compete with Jose Trevino for reps behind the plate next season.

Promoted from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sept. 1, Wells started slowly at the plate, but he has been making a few adjustments to flatten his bat through the zone. Tuesday’s homer was Wells’ second in as many games, and he has gone deep in three of his last five contests.

 “You’ve seen from the jump that he’s hitter-ish in the box. He’s got that,” manager Aaron Boone said. “Now he’s starting to get some results and really starting to drive the ball. That’s a good one the other way off Romano. He’s starting to string together a lot of good at-bats.”

Wells’ blast provided the margin of victory after starter continued to state his case to begin the 2024 season in the Yankees’ rotation, flashing an ability to limit damage on an uncharacteristically wild evening.

Since joining the rotation in mid-August, King has compiled a 1.49 ERA (6 ER / 36 1/3 IP) across eight starts. That included Tuesday’s 98-pitch effort, which both Boone and King described as “a grind.” The right-hander limited Toronto to one single and five walks, striking out five over six innings.

“You’re not going to have your best stuff every time,” King said. “Good starters are the ones that are able to still get outs and put up zeros.”

That’s what Blue Jays starter Kevin Gausman did, too, holding the Yankees hitless until the sixth inning.

New York had an excellent chance to score in the seventh, when Giancarlo Stanton laced a one-out double off Gausman. Stanton was held at third on an Isiah Kiner-Falefa single, then he was thrown out at home plate attempting to score on Oswaldo Cabrera’s ground ball to shortstop Bo Bichette.

Boone said he had “some consideration” of pinch-running for Stanton, but he did not want to insert Aaron Judge or Anthony Volpe into the game.

On the other side, the Blue Jays had chances of their own, and King navigated them well.

King credited Wells’ guidance for helping him evade a sticky situation in the third inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, King fell behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with a 3-0 count, drawing Wells for a mound visit.

“I felt I just needed to give him a breather; he looked a little sped up,” Wells said. “I wanted to go out there and slow him down a little bit, give him some time to catch his breath.”

Wells spent those seconds reiterating the team’s scouting report on Guerrero. King nodded, then pumped three straight sinkers through the zone to retire the side. King said that he has been impressed by Wells since his first three games in Houston.

“I thought that was the most impressive, because he goes out there and you’re catching some really good talent,” King said. “There’s also some egos on this team, and he’s continued to be very even-keeled and knows exactly how to get you fired up, to work with you, how to calm you down.”

Wells said that his transition to the Majors has been eased by numerous clubhouse members, especially the pitchers, whose repertoires he has had to learn on the fly.

“They’ve been so good with me,” Wells said. “They’ve really welcomed me and given me such a good description of what they’re trying to do each and every time on the mound. That’s really helped me step up my game-calling, being able to call pitches confidently.”