After Saturday night’s loss to the Yankees, in which Tyler Wells turned in his third straight short outing, manager Brandon Hyde acknowledged there were many possibilities on the table regarding the Orioles right-hander’s immediate future.
The route Baltimore chose came Sunday: Wells was optioned to Double-A Bowie.
The move comes after Wells couldn’t complete the third inning Saturday. He allowed only three runs, but for the third time this month the 28-year-old’s control evaded him. He walked three batters and hit another, a clear sign Wells wasn’t himself, Hyde said. That’s after he walked four batters and hit two in 4 1/3 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays last week.
“We feel like he needs a little bit of a break, a little bit of a reset,” Hyde said. “The last three or four starts, there’s been some things in there that are uncharacteristic. We feel like the right thing for him and for us, because we need him back, we need him, is to give him a little bit a break.”
It’s a stark difference from what Wells had shown over the first half of the season. In his first 18 appearances, the pitcher completed at least five innings each time. For an inexperienced staff, Wells stood out as the most consistent hurler and made a push for his first All-Star appearance before falling short.
Now, his main focus in Double-A will be to rediscover the command that made him Baltimore’s best pitcher over the first few months of the season. Wells will have a reduced workload in Bowie. Ideally, he’ll be ready to return after the minimum 15 days, but it’s too early to know how long he will need.
There is a chance, with his innings rising higher than ever, that he could find his way back to Baltimore as a reliever.
The decision to option Wells now comes with a backdrop of the impending Tuesday trade deadline. Baltimore could swing for another starting pitcher to bolster its rotation, and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Friday the club is pursuing pitching as a top priority.
In the short term, optioning Wells means the Orioles will be without him for at least two starts, unless he replaces an injured player. That could leave left-hander Cole Irvin as a fill-in starter when Wells’ next spot in the rotation arrives Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Or the Orioles could trade for a pitcher, such as Michael Lorenzen from the Detroit Tigers. Jordan Montgomery of the St. Louis Cardinals was another possibility, but the left-hander is instead heading to the Texas Rangers, according to ESPN. The search for a starter is complicated by the fact Elias said he’ll be prudent and not sacrifice the future by going all in on the present.
“This is an unusual week, so we’ll see what happens,” Hyde said when asked how the team plans to fill Wells’ spot.
Whatever Baltimore does, this much has become clear: For the Orioles to continue a push not only toward October but deep into it, front-line pitching reinforcements are a necessity.
Before Wells struggled Saturday, his WHIP led all starting pitchers in baseball. And even after his 2 2/3 innings that included two more home runs against him, Wells still holds a 3.80 ERA.
Physically, Wells said, “I feel fine.” He dismissed the assertion that he felt fatigued — although Wells has thrown more innings than ever before in his major league career. Instead, there could be something mechanically at play.
“Each start has been a different goal, and I made some progress in what I was trying to accomplish between last start and this start,” Wells said Saturday night. “Other things I need to sort out and get back to the drawing board on, but if there’s anyone who’s going to work really hard on it, it’s going to be me.”
Wells was disappointed to hear he was being optioned, Hyde said, but understood the assignment was necessary.
To replace Wells in the near term, the Orioles selected the contract of right-handed reliever Joey Krehbiel and designated right-hander Eduard Bazardo for assignment.
Wells’ rise to becoming a key cog in the Orioles’ rotation is one of Hyde’s most cherished stories about his team. Wells underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and missed two seasons. He was a Rule 5 draft selection, brought to Baltimore as a reliever, and worked his way into the starting rotation each of the last two seasons.
“Sticks on our team because we liked his arm and we had a bad pitching staff, and all of a sudden, took a chance to keep a guy because we like his arm and all of a sudden he’s league leader in WHIP in the first half of the American League East,” Hyde said prior to Saturday’s game. “Those are cool things.”
Wells isn’t one to let a setback derail him. He experienced bullying as a child and became a stress eater, but he worked hard to find more physical and mental balance in his life to reach the highest level of a sport he loves.
“I’m not going to let it discourage me,” Wells said Saturday of his recent dip in form.
Still, the decision only intensifies the light that is on Baltimore ahead of the trade deadline to find pitching assistance.
Danielle Allentuck contributed reporting.