'He keeps getting better': Wells strikes out a career-high 8

Orioles righty gives acting manager González an easy night at the helm

May 14th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Fredi González’s wife, Tricia, could sense his nervous energy as the two shared coffee at breakfast Saturday morning. The Orioles’ bench coach, a former 10-year MLB manager, had a one-day assignment to return to his old post.

While Baltimore skipper Brandon Hyde attended the graduation of his oldest daughter at Syracuse University, his club was left in the capable hands of González, who once led the Marlins (2007-10) and Braves (2011-16). Still, the 59-year-old was anxious, and he didn’t hide it.

“I’m just making sure that everything’s OK, nobody gets hurt, Hyder comes back tomorrow and I say, best-case scenario, ‘ threw nine innings and the bullpen is fully rested. Go get ‘em,’” González said before Saturday night’s game vs. the Pirates.

Wells didn’t quite throw nine. But the 28-year-old right-hander made it an easy night at the helm for González.

The Orioles kept rolling with a 2-0 win at Camden Yards that featured solo home runs from and and seven dominant innings by Wells, who struck out a career-high eight and lowered his MLB-best WHIP to 0.72. Baltimore (26-13) again owns the second-best record in the big leagues behind only Tampa Bay (30-11) and has now won nine of its past 10 series.

Wells retired 20 of Pittsburgh’s first 21 batters, including 17 in a row following Carlos Santana’s leadoff single in the second. The Pirates didn’t have another baserunner until Santana and Jack Suwinski drew consecutive two-out walks in the seventh.

“I was locating the ball much better tonight, just kind of putting my slider where I wanted it, my changeup where I wanted it. My fastball was working for me tonight as well,” Wells said. “Whenever you’ve got three solid pitches working for you, being able to put it in the general area that you need to put it in, outings like that happen.”

Although Wells also mixed in his cutter and curveball well, he was most effective with the trio of pitches he named. He induced a career-high 18 whiffs, per Statcast, including on eight of the 11 swings against his slider and five of the 10 vs. his changeup. He also got four with his four-seam fastball and another with his cutter.

In a brisk contest lasting only 2 hours and 4 minutes, the homers by Rutschman and Henderson off Pittsburgh starter Roansy Contreras -- which came in the first and second innings, respectively -- were enough support for Wells, who has a 2.68 ERA through eight outings.

“He works quick and knows what he wants to do, and he goes out there and executes it,” Henderson said. “It’s been really fun to play behind him.”

And Wells is always appreciative that those defenders are back there -- especially Anthony Santander in right field on Saturday.

Santander preserved Wells’ sterling night with a jumping catch at the wall to retire Miguel Andujar for the final out of the seventh. Santana and Suwinski, who were at first and second, likely would have both scored on the play had Santander not caught it, which would have tied the game.

What was Wells thinking when the ball left Andujar’s bat at 100 mph and was traveling to deep right?

“I can’t say that on air. But I could tell you that whenever I saw him catch it, I blacked out, lost my mind,” said Wells, who twice spun around and pumped his glove before greeting Santander with a huge hug. “Definitely owe him a nice, fat steak -- maybe even a whole cow -- after that catch.”

Shortly before Santander’s snag, González had turned to third-base coach Tony Mansolino in the first-base dugout and shared the thrill of what it was like to be managing a tightly contested game again.

“I’m like, ‘You can’t get this feeling I’m having right now anywhere else than here in baseball,’” González said. “For me, it was Wellsy’s game right there and then, right? I’m not going to bring in anyone else other than Wells, and he did it. What a great feeling.”

Thanks to Wells, González needed only two calls to the bullpen, bringing in Baltimore’s two best relievers -- Yennier Cano in the eighth and closer Félix Bautista in the ninth. Cano preserved his unblemished ERA with his 15th consecutive scoreless appearance to open the season and Bautista struck out the side in the ninth for his 10th save.

Also thanks to Wells, González led the Orioles to a win and can hand back the mostly fresh relief corps to Hyde upon his return.

“He keeps getting better,” González said of Wells. “You feel comfortable giving him the ball every fifth day.”

Especially when it’s your only day as the acting manager.