Tyler Wells maintained a firm perspective throughout spring training, even as the speculation spread and became a major topic during each gaggle he held with reporters. Yes, the Orioles right-hander had pitched out of the bullpen before in his career, but he never wavered on the view that he is a starting pitcher.
That determination led him through a congested rotation battle in the spring and propelled him onward to become the most reliable Baltimore starter by the All-Star Break. Yet, as the season winds down, a move to the bullpen appears on the horizon despite his best efforts to sustain a role as a starter.
Still, it could be the best decision for Wells and the Orioles.
The Orioles missed out on adding another relief pitcher at the trade deadline, but they could welcome Wells back to Baltimore as a potent reliever if the latest development for him goes smoothly. Baltimore transitioned Wells from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday, manager Brandon Hyde said. And once there, Wells will pitch out of the bullpen beginning Wednesday.
Hyde envisions fewer pitches and fewer innings for Wells, who seemed to hit a wall in July and was optioned to the Baysox so he could recover and potentially return for a final push toward to the postseason — a much-needed fresh arm arriving when the most stressful innings appear.
“He’s thrown a lot of innings this year for us in the rotation, and kind of where we are, hopefully we can stay healthy the rest of the way,” Hyde said, “but just want to see what it looks like out of the pen right now.”
Where Baltimore is right now is here: The Orioles are running with a six-man rotation to help manage the innings of all their starters. Wells lost his place there once he gave up a combined 11 runs in nine innings across three starts, a sharp departure from the domination he showed earlier (In his first 18 appearances, Wells held a 3.18 ERA with a .193 batting average against him).
At the time, Wells said he felt physically fine, despite the 28-year-old throwing more innings than ever before in his major league career. But the Orioles’ opinion differed, with Hyde saying in late July that Wells “needs a little bit of a break, a little bit of a reset.”
Wells has since started three games for Bowie, with the first two lasting 3 1/3 innings and the final one just two (the team announced that was a planned shortened outing). He allowed one run in each with a combined three walks and seven strikeouts.
They weren’t flawless, but they were something closer to what Baltimore has come to expect.
“We’re really encouraged by giving him some rest, giving him some time off,” Hyde said Tuesday. “He’s throwing the ball much better here as of late.”
Wells, of course, has pitched out of the bullpen before. After his Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Wells pitched exclusively as a reliever in 2021, covering 57 innings with a 4.11 ERA. He pushed into the rotation last year and threw 103 2/3 innings, then surpassed that number by midseason with 113 2/3 frames for the Orioles this year.
He sees that as the expectation for himself. Wells takes pride in pitching deep into games, and he managed that for much of the first half of the season.
But now, for Wells to take an active role in the Orioles’ final push toward October baseball, it may need to come as a reliever — a role he didn’t want to be boxed into during spring training. That was then, this is now, and the Orioles’ bullpen could receive a major lift sooner than later in a pitcher repurposed for a different role.
“Definitely want to see what that looks like, just because of how Tyler pitched out of the bullpen a couple years ago,” Hyde said, “and how well he did there.”