BALTIMORE -- Tyler Wells understands the hand he’s being dealt, though he tries not to let it impact him. The Orioles are being extremely cautious with their 6-foot-8 right-hander, employing him, more or less, on a five-inning or 75-pitch cutoff each start, whichever comes first.
For the better part of Monday night, Wells was on a path to force manager Brandon Hyde’s hand in testing how rigid that plan was, looking as efficient as he’s been in any outing thus far.
But ultimately, foresight won out. Wells was pulled after five innings, 62 pitches and one run allowed against his former club in the series opener, a game which ended in a 2-1 loss to the Twins at Camden Yards.
If you’ve been following along, you’d know there’s reason Wells getting the hook. Coming off several years of flux, health is at the forefront of the Orioles’ minds every time he takes the mound -- for both the 2022 season and those to follow.
“We need Tyler to pitch for us for this year, and so that's the challenge, honestly,” Hyde said. “I don't want to take him out, but it's a challenge right now.”
And the first frame Wells didn’t pitch in on Monday would be the inning in which the Orioles lost, with a run scoring off Bryan Baker thanks to Carlos Correa’s RBI single.
Should Wells have gone deeper against Minnesota, or be allowed to pitch longer going forward? Like any good sports debate, there are two sides. So let’s dive into them.
Pitch Wells deeper!
His stuff is clearly tantalizing, isn’t it? Wells uses every inch of his towering frame for a fastball that sits 94 mph, a wipeout slider that goes up to 87 mph and a changeup that stands as his best putaway pitch. Wells’ fastball is among the best in baseball as far as spin rate goes.
And mind you, this is after him opting to pull back his velocity in order to pitch deeper into games.
Wells also doesn’t walk a lot of guys, a nice quality for a starter, including zero in each of his last three outings. His 5.3 percent walk rate is comfortably below the Major League average.
“Yeah, I don't like walking people,” Wells said.
Take Monday, for instance, as a look at his maximum potential. Wells needed just 25 pitches to work through his first three innings (and just 13 for his first two). In the fourth, the Twins fouled off nine pitches and worked him for 26, likely eradicating his chance to pitch past the fifth inning. As luck would have it, that 11-pitch fifth featured the only run Minnesota nicked him for.
It’s a precipitous position for Wells to be in. One faulty inning, and your night could be over sooner than initially planned. He’s not letting it change his mindset, though.
“I'm going out there and going as long as I can until they tell me to stop,” Wells said. “I mean, that's kind of how I'm trying to take it these last two starts. Whenever they say, ‘Hey, we're going to loosen the reins a little bit,’ especially whenever our bullpen has kind of been taxed, I'm happy to be able to go that deep.”
Go easy with his health!
Wells is only 27 years old and is under club control through 2026. He figures into the Orioles’ plans, both for this season and likely for the ones to follow. As such, the club views this year not simply as one for him to contribute in the moment, but as a jumping-off point for him to do the same, with health, in the more distant future.
So, this is the pragmatic approach, you could argue. Before this season, Wells had pitched just 57 innings since 2018 -- all coming last year, in relief -- due to Tommy John surgery that erased his ’19 campaign and the pandemic-canceled Minor League season in ’20. Then throw on top of that the enhanced erring on the side of caution that all teams are using coming off the shortened Spring Training, and there’s enough concern to say, really, that there’s no more logical way to approach Wells than the way the O’s are doing now.
No matter for Wells. He’s said he wants to pitch in the big moments, whether that be at the beginning, middle or end of games -- the last of which he did last year as a part-time closer. Given the plethora of prospect pitching talent waiting in the wings, possibly joining him as early as this year in the Majors, Wells’ long-term maximized use may very well come in the high-leverage moments out of the bullpen, given both his physical and mental makeup.
But until then, the Orioles will enjoy the breath of success he’s providing.
“He's starting to settle into the starter-type of routine and becoming a little bit more comfortable and natural with it,” Hyde said. “All of his stuff, his slider's back to where it was when he was going really well last year out of the bullpen. … Really happy with how he's throwing the ball.”