Out of options and out of favor with Orioles fans going into this season, Mike Wright was right back on the 25-man roster to begin the year yet again. Not only was he back on the roster, but Wright started two of the Orioles’ first ten games. Like the Mike Wright we had come to know, he exited that second start without making it out of the first inning. Two starts, less than six total innings, and an ERA of 7.94.
It all sounded about right for Orioles fans. We clamored for Wright’s head on a platter, or at the very least on league waivers. But the front office was going to give him one last shot, in the bullpen.
It’s not like it was some far-out theory to send Wright to a mid- to late-inning roll. Heck, Camden Chat discussed the possibility back in 2016 and his scouting report from MLB Pipeline back in 2014 states, “Some scouts think Wright’s stuff would play up in the bullpen.”
The Orioles tried to make the bullpen move last season, but it was a struggle for Wright. “The Big Wrighty” (yes, no one calls him this and I’m making this up on the spot so just go with it) was unable to string together consecutive scoreless appearances until his final two outings of the season. I’m not sure if anyone told him, but stringing together scoreless appearances is kind of the entire goal of the back-end of the bullpen. It’s possible that even in the offseason no one let him in on that little tidbit.
After his two lackluster starts to begin the year, Wright didn’t fare much better in the pen. Through his first 15 innings pitched as a reliever in 2018, opposing hitters teed up on him with a slash line of .317/.389/.433. Over those 15 innings spanning one month, his ERA somehow grew from 7.94 to 9.15. Once again, Orioles fans were rightfully outraged, but the organization showed the kind of patience that would make a kindergarten teacher proud.
I don’t know what happened on the night of May 12th between Mike Wright’s eighth appearance and his ninth, but since then he’s been an entirely new pitcher. He started off his redemption tour with six straight scoreless appearances over nine innings. Wright was walking too many guys, and as a result opposing batters were still reaching base 37.5% of the time, but Wright appeared to be actually keeping his composure out there and he was stranding runners. Just recently, he went on another run of four consecutive outings.
Since sporting an ERA of 9.15 after his first eight appearances, Wright has been consistently lowering his ERA ever since. After allowing an earned run over two innings while picking up the win in game one of yesterday’s double header, Wright’s ERA is down to 4.91. Over that stretch, Wright has pitched to an ERA of only 1.66 over 15 appearances and 27 innings.
He’s got a ways to go before cementing himself as a permanent fixture in the back-end of the Orioles rotation, but the signs are there. After a few outings out of the pen that didn’t turn the needle much, the predicted uptick in his stuff coming out of the bullpen is starting to show and the results have matched.
And that doesn’t include the 98 mph fastball he threw by Aaron Judge yesterday.
Wright's fastball clocked at 98 mph on the Judge strikeout. Missing velo has been found. Call off the search #orioles— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) July 9, 2018
Mike Wright will surely have his share of growing pains going forward. It would be ignorant to expect The Big Wrighty to pitch to a sub-2.00 ERA for the rest of the season. That being said, it’s starting to look like he has what it takes to last at the back end of a major league bullpen. And if he’s going to struggle through some growing pains, why not let him do it on a 100+ loss team that’s likely about to lose two relievers in the next month?
It’s going to be difficult for O’s fans to watch Wright enter ballgames with any sort of optimism. He certainly hasn’t built up any equity over the years, and it’s going to take a while. But, I mean, how optimistic are you watching any bullpen piece run onto the mound these days? Just as the Orioles have, it’s time for fans to give Mike Wright one more chance.