Brandon Hyde knocked on the wooden table he sat behind.
He knocked because to this point, all the patience around Tyler Wells has paid off, and the Orioles manager doesn’t want any reverse in fortunes for the right-handed pitcher who has come into his own.
Last season, before every start, Hyde and the front office mapped out how far Wells’ would stretch that game. Wells spent the year before in the bullpen. Both were ways to monitor his innings, to lessen the potential strain or injury risk for a pitcher who underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2019 and missed 2020 when the pandemic canceled the minor league season.
It’s different now, though. The innings limit is gone, replaced by a belief that the 28-year-old right-hander who some thought of as a bullpen candidate can instead grow into something more akin to a front-end starter.
That’s why Hyde knocked on the table. In Wells’ most recent start on Friday, he pitched a career-high seven shutout innings on 95 pitches while allowing just three hits to the Detroit Tigers. He has fed off success of the pitching staff at large, just as the rest of the hurlers have, but Wells is also making the most of a different set of circumstances.
Last year, Wells recalled, Hyde might’ve told him earlier that he was done, even when he was cruising the way he was.
“This year, it’s nice to be able to have Skip ask me, ‘Hey, how’re you feeling?’ when the sixth inning comes around, and me telling him I feel good, and I can go back out there for the seventh,” Wells said. “There’s a different dynamic there in the best way you could possibly put it, because you’re not restricted. It’s the freedom to be able to be like, ‘Hey, if I’m feeling good, I’m feeling good.’ And then I can go back out. Versus, like, having to worry about reaching a certain amount of innings, I think that frees up our minds for the entire organization.”
Before Wells’ starts last year, Hyde never told him what sort of restriction he’d be under. He didn’t want Wells to overcomplicate a start by thinking about his pitch count, and Wells “trusted Hyder to be able to make the best decision possible for me.”
That allowed Wells to become one of Baltimore’s most consistent starting pitchers in his first opportunity to be in a major league rotation. He finished last season with a 4.25 ERA in 103 2/3 innings, and while shoulder inflammation ended his year in late September, the decision to revert Wells to his starting pitching ways after a year in the bullpen was proven correct.
He completed six innings five times, allowing one run or fewer in four of those games. Still, Wells felt the competitive fire back then, to want to return to the mound for another inning. Hyde felt it, too, but knew restraint last year would reap benefits this year.
“We did the right thing with Tyler last year, just because of the two years he had prior to that,” Hyde said. “That was difficult last year, honestly, to kind of go in with a game plan every start with him. I would never really tell him how long, because I didn’t want him to worry about it, but now I want him to go eight. Now I want him to pitch as long as he can.”
The start to Wells’ season came with an unexpected emergency relief role, filling in for the injured Kyle Bradish with five no-hit innings out of the bullpen. There were projections in spring training that figured Wells might end up in the bullpen, considering his previous experience there and the logjam of starters attempting to make the five-man rotation.
Wells chose to tune out that noise. He was happy to step up in the bullpen if that’s where Baltimore’s brass decided he was most needed, but felt he proved himself last year as a starter. He proved himself again in the spring.
And after he broke camp as one of the Orioles’ five rotation arms, he now holds the best ERA (2.70) of any Orioles starter with more than two appearances this year and has the lowest WHIP (0.686) of that group.
So when Wells considers it, he knows the patience paid off.
“They were constantly monitoring that stuff for me,” Wells said. “But now it’s like, ‘Hey, we’ve built you up. You’ve gotten to where you need to be. You have free reign.’ That is extremely gratifying.”