The Orioles are taking a look at right-hander Tyler Wells out of the bullpen down in Triple-A Norfolk and could use him as a reliever down the stretch and into the postseason, tweets Jake Rill of MLB.com. Wells was optioned to Double-A last month after an alarming lapse in his command saw him walk or hit a quarter of his opponents in his first three starts following the All-Star break (nine walks, three hit batters, 48 total opponents faced).
Wells, 29 this weekend, got out to a brilliant start for the O’s in 2023, pitching to a 2.68 ERA in his first seven starts (47 innings). That success was largely built on a minuscule .145 average on balls in play and 88.2% strand rate, however, both of which are unsustainable measures for any pitcher over a larger sample. Dating back to mid-May, Wells has turned in a more pedestrian 4.59 ERA, while both his BABIP (.250) and strand rate (80.1%) in that time have begun to regress (though they’re both still a ways from league-average levels). The right-hander also lost a mile per hour off his fastball during that stretch; he averaged 93.2 mph through his first seven starts and 92.2 mph thereafter.
The 106 innings that Wells threw for the Orioles in 2022 (minors and big leagues combined) was his highest total since 2018. The former Rule 5 pick out of the Twins organization tossed just 57 innings from 2019-21, owing to injury and the canceled minor league season in 2020. Including the 9 2/3 innings he’s pitched since being optioned, Wells is up to 123 1/3 innings this season — topping the career-high 119 1/3 innings he pitched back in ’18.
Though the plan might be to manage Wells’ workload down the stretch with shorter relief appearances, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes that the organization isn’t necessarily closing the book on Wells a starter entirely. He could get a look in the rotation again next year, depending on the extent to which the O’s address the starting staff in the offseason. Baltimore will see both Kyle Gibson and trade acquisition Jack Flaherty become free agents at season’s end. Wells would join Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, Bruce Zimmermann and DL Hall as in-house rotation options next season (though Hall has also been working in relief since returning from a stint on the minor league injured list).
If Wells acclimates well to the relief role and pitches his way back onto the big league roster, he’d be a boon for what’s already a strong relief corps — headlined by All-Stars Felix Bautista and Yennier Cano. Baltimore relievers rank sixth in the Majors with a 3.58 ERA, third with a 26.5% strikeout rate and first with just 0.82 homers per nine innings pitched. Wells pitched out of Baltimore’s bullpen in 2021, logging 57 innings of 4.11 ERA ball as a rookie. In 274 1/3 innings at the big league level — all with the O’s — he’s posted a 4.04 ERA with a roughly average 22.9% strikeout rate and an excellent 6.6% walk rate but a more troubling 1.64 homers per nine frames.
Wells needed a full 172 days of Major League service time in 2023 to reach three years of service, which he won’t get after being optioned late last month. However, assuming he’s recalled at some point between now and season’s end, he should still gain enough service to qualify as a Super Two player, making him arbitration-eligible four times rather than the standard three. This optional assignment has nevertheless likely delayed his path to free agency by a year; since he can’t reach three years of service this season, he’ll now be controllable at least through the 2027 campaign instead of after the 2026 season, as he’d been on pace for entering the year.