Struggling Wells to try to 'reset' at Double-A

July 30th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The life on ’ fastball hadn’t been there. His command was clearly becoming an issue. He was yanking his breaking pitches rather than landing them for strikes.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde could tell Wells needed “a little bit of a break” and “a little bit of a reset.” Now, the 28-year-old right-hander is getting just that.

On Sunday, Baltimore made the difficult decision to option Wells to Double-A Bowie following his tough three-start stretch coming out of the All-Star break. After posting a 3.18 ERA and an MLB-best 0.93 WHIP in 18 first-half outings, Wells had an 11.00 ERA over his first nine innings of the second half. He allowed three runs in 2 2/3 frames in an 8-3 loss to the Yankees on Saturday night at Camden Yards.

“We’re hoping that that kind of low-pressure environment [at Bowie], low workload, allows him to then rejoin us and be the Tyler Wells that we saw in the first half,” Hyde said.

Wells has already pitched 113 2/3 innings this year, 10 more than he threw in 2022. The most he has pitched in any professional season is 119 1/3 (2018, in the Twins’ Minor League system). So Hyde believes fatigue is likely correlated to Wells’ recent mechanical issues, although the righty has insisted he’s feeling fine physically.

The Orioles sent Wells to Bowie, Md., rather than Triple-A Norfolk to keep him close to Baltimore. The club is hopeful he won’t be there long, as he’ll try to stay close to stretched out and keep the feel for his pitches once he gets into Double-A game action, which will happen after a little time off.

According to Hyde, Wells was receptive to the plan being put in place by Baltimore.

“[He was] a little disappointed last night, but of course,” Hyde said. “But incredibly understanding, unbelievably professional, appreciative. He knows that we’re doing what we feel like is the right thing for him, and then for us. Because like I said, he’s a big part of our team and we need him to be right.”

Early in the year, Wells was having success despite giving up a large number of home runs. He allowed two more Saturday, raising his total yielded to 25 (second most in the Majors). However, 16 have been solo shots, so the homer problem hasn’t been a primary issue.

The bigger concern for the Orioles is that Wells issued 13 walks in 21 innings over five July starts. His fastball velocity has also been down, as he threw only one pitch at 93 mph or higher (per Statcast) on Saturday. His heater averaged 91.6 in the outing, 0.9 below his season average.

“I don’t think it’s been a stuff issue; I think it’s been a location/execution issue,” Wells said Saturday night.

Whatever the issues are, Wells will have time to correct them. By rule, he’s required to stay in the Minors for at least 15 days (unless he gets called back up to replace an injured player). Hyde didn’t provide a timeline, other than stating the team is hopeful Wells will pitch in big spots for the Orioles in September and October (the latter if they reach the postseason).

It’s possible Wells could pitch in relief down the stretch to manage his innings. There’s also a chance the starter who will fill the open spot in the Orioles’ rotation isn’t yet in the organization.

On Friday, general manager Mike Elias stated Baltimore’s intent to target pitching help ahead of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline, and it has become increasingly likely the Orioles will acquire a starter. In addition to Wells, Dean Kremer (115 2/3) and Kyle Bradish (104) are getting closer to their pro career highs in innings pitched, while Grayson Rodriguez (103 2/3) has already set a personal mark.

As Hyde noted, it’s an “unusual week” with American League East-leading Baltimore positioned as buyers for the first time since he and Elias arrived prior to the 2019 season. No long-term pitching plans can be finalized until the Orioles evaluate the trade market and potentially make one or multiple moves.

“We’ll see what the roster looks like,” Hyde said. “I mean, I don’t even know what the roster’s going to look like next week.”