Wells, Irvin ready to step up for O's rotation

February 18th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Orioles’ newly started rotation competition may not get too heated this spring. It could end up being not much of a battle at all.

With Kyle Bradish (right UCL sprain) heading to the injured list to open the 2024 season and John Means (delayed recovery from a left elbow flare-up) likely joining him there, the projections for Baltimore’s rotation were immediately torn up as soon as general manager Mike Elias shared both those pieces of news during the first day of Spring Training workouts on Thursday.

Recently acquired ace Corbin Burnes and fellow righties Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer will still make up the majority of the rotation. But Bradish and Means now both appear to be out -- at least to start the season.

For the two openings, it seems highly likely the Orioles will turn to right-hander and left-hander . Both of them started games for the team last season, and they will get “every opportunity” to seize those spots, per manager Brandon Hyde.

Wells and Irvin are both ready for their chances to step up.

“It sucks, and obviously, hoping and praying that Bradish and Means are healthy and are able to come back,” Wells said. “It’s just one of those things that you have to take it for what it is. But I don’t have any doubts about the guys that we have.”

Added Irvin: “It sucks to lose those two guys, they’re big impact guys for us. We’re going to fill their role and do the best we can.”

Wells has already shown that his best has a high ceiling. Last year, he was among the top starters in the American League during the first half, when he recorded a 3.18 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP in 104 2/3 innings across 18 outings.

Then, things took a turn for the 29-year-old Wells, who had never thrown more than 119 1/3 innings in any year of his professional career. He posted an 11.00 ERA in his first three starts after the All-Star break and was then sent to the Minors for an extended period of rest.

When Wells returned to the big leagues in September, he was used as a high-leverage reliever -- a role he previously filled during his 2021 rookie campaign -- and threw five scoreless innings late in the regular season and 3 1/3 more scoreless frames in the postseason.

He can excel in relief, but he could still have a bright future as a starter.

“I love that Tyler brings such a strike-throwing ability with four pitches. I think he’s got a starter’s mix,” Hyde said. “I’d love to see him be able to go deeper into the year this year, because I think he can really help us in the rotation.”

While Wells was excellent early last season, Irvin got off to a tough start during his first year in Baltimore. After being dealt from the A’s to the O’s on Jan. 26, 2023, the southpaw made the club’s Opening Day rotation, posted a 10.66 ERA over three starts and was then optioned to Triple-A Norfolk.

Irvin made nine additional starts from June to September and pitched well in those outings (a 3.18 ERA in 45 1/3 innings), but he also spent chunks of time in the bullpen, recording a 3.26 ERA in 12 relief appearances.

Out of Minor League options, Irvin was likely headed back to the 'pen to open the 2024 season, prior to the news of Bradish’s injury and Means’ delayed build-up. Now, Irvin is in a position to win a starting job, which was going to be his mindset when he arrived at Spring Training regardless.

“Myself and the other guys that are fighting for those rotation spots coming into camp, there’s already a sense of urgency and eagerness to get to that point,” Irvin said. “So I think the focus still remains the same: Be ready to take the ball when the team asks.”

It’s possible Wells and/or Irvin could pitch their way out of the rotation over the next five weeks and others could pitch their way in. There are four prospects with starting experience in big league camp -- righties Chayce McDermott (O’s No. 9 prospect per MLB Pipeline), Seth Johnson (No. 14) and Justin Armbruester (No. 18) and lefty Cade Povich (No. 10).

Right-hander Jonathan Heasley and left-hander Bruce Zimmermann are players on the 40-man roster who have started in the Majors before, while non-roster invitees with past starting experience include lefties Tucker Davidson and Andrew Suárez and righties Garrett Stallings and Albert Suárez.

Eventually, Bradish and Means should return and contribute as members of the Orioles’ rotation in 2024. Means could be ready by sometime in April, while Bradish’s timeline is less certain.

“They’re going to be back,” Irvin said. “Our job is to be next man up.”

As long as the spring goes well for both Wells and Irvin, they should be the ones stepping in.

“We feel confident they both can handle it,” Hyde said. “They’re going to get as many starts as possible this spring.”