Wells has best start in final audition for rotation

March 26th, 2023

BRADENTON, Fla. -- never wanted to view Spring Training as a competition with his Orioles teammates. He made that clear after his first Grapefruit League start on March 4, when the 28-year-old right-hander declined to answer a question pertaining to the battle for rotation spots in camp.

“I’m not really interested in talking about competing with all the other guys. I’m trying to focus on what I’m doing,” Wells said at the time.

So it wasn’t a surprise Saturday night when Wells wouldn't discuss whether he thought he’d proven enough over the past three weeks to make Baltimore’s Opening Day roster.

“To say whether I deserve it or not, that’s not up to me. Unfortunately, I don’t want to answer that question directly,” Wells said. “I think the organization’s going to do what they can do to put the best team out there.”

Wells didn’t need to verbalize his case. His right arm had already stated it for him.

In his final Grapefruit outing, Wells turned in his finest performance of the spring, allowing an unearned run over five innings in the Orioles’ 6-4 win over the Pirates at LECOM Park. He gave up two hits, notched two strikeouts and didn’t issue a walk. He was effective with all five of his offerings (four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball, slider), throwing 38 of his 62 pitches for strikes.

It was an impressive closing performance, one leaving Baltimore with a challenging decision that has become even tougher -- how does the club round out its starting rotation?

The O’s announced Kyle Gibson as their Opening Day starter, with slated to follow him in game No. 2. , acquired in an offseason trade from the A’s, should be locked in soon, especially seeing as he’s the only left-handed starting candidate remaining in camp ( won’t be fully stretched out in time).

For much of the spring, and  were apparent front-runners to secure the final two spots. Wells’ late-spring performances could justify him getting one instead, though.

“Love what [Wells] did,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I thought he, once again, pounded the strike zone [Saturday], like he did last start. He’s getting better feel for his offspeed. I thought his fastball had good life.”

Wells had an 11.57 ERA after three Grapefruit League starts but produced much better results his past two times out. This past Sunday, he yielded only one run in 3 2/3 innings against a potent Yankees lineup, which he then followed up with Saturday’s stellar showing.

To describe why his final two spring starts went so much better, Wells needed only one word: execution.

“It’s just being able to go out there and make the pitches when you need them,” Wells said. “Obviously, my defense has been picking me up as well. It’s a good recipe.”

Wells has been on a clear upward trajectory. Meanwhile, Bradish and Rodriguez have not been quite as strong of late.

Bradish, who allowed two runs in nine innings over his first three starts, gave up nine runs in 2 1/3 innings in his most recent start vs. the Phillies on Monday. Rodriguez, Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 overall prospect, has allowed 14 runs (11 earned) in 10 2/3 innings over his past three outings.

Maybe Wells has unseated either Bradish or Rodriguez from the projected rotation. Or perhaps Wells returns to the bullpen, where he pitched in 2021 before being converted to a starter in ’22.

There’s also a chance Wells could be optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, so he can continue to start if he doesn’t end up in the big league rotation. But it seems tougher to do that after he showed such improvement over the past month.

Hyde isn’t tipping his hand about any of the looming roster decisions his club must make.

“I think we’re probably going to wait until the end on a lot of them,” Hyde said.

But Wells isn’t going to worry over it these next few days. No matter what happens when camp breaks Monday, he’s happy with how his spring went and will be ready to help Baltimore when called upon.

“I’ve executed what I’ve wanted to do this Spring Training, which is command my pitches, go out there, not try and walk guys, attack guys as I usually do,” Wells said. “I’m overall very happy with it, and I think that this is a good way to top it off for the time being.”