The Orioles entered this season with more questions than answers. It makes sense that a rebuilding team would possess more problems than solutions, but no position group better exemplified the situation than the starting rotation.
There was really no way of knowing how long Matt Harvey would last. The answer turned out to be much longer than Wade LeBlanc or Félix Hernández, but that wasn’t saying much. The Orioles did not know what to expect from the group, but there was a general consensus with the rotation. Regardless of how the veterans performed, they would be replaced by a young group of starters by the end of the year.
Bruce Zimmermann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells are the three scheduled starters for the final home series against Boston. I touched on this in the series preview, but the thought lingered on my mind. If someone informed me in April that these three left-handers would be starting in September, it would have made total sense. But how they got here would have come as a surprise.
Zimmermann broke camp with the team after pitching nine scoreless innings in the spring. The 26-year-old appeared heading toward a swingman type of role before limiting opponents to just one hit in the Grapefruit league. He started the third game of the season for Baltimore and delivered a quality start for his first win of the season.
Zimmermann proved to be a consistent, but not spectacular, contributor for the Orioles in the first half of the season. He often pitched into the sixth inning, and allowed three runs or less in 10 of his 12 starts. That stat alone made him one of the best starting pitchers for Baltimore this season.
The Orioles placed Zimmermann on the injured list with bicep tendonitis in July, and the lefty suffered a setback after he sprained his ankle last month. The Orioles easily could have shut down the rookie for the season, but they elected to give him a start last night.
Zimmerman allowed just two hits in four innings against the Sox. He walked two batters, but made only one true mistake— a solo homer to Kyle Schwarber. There’s no point in reading overly into the one appearance, but those 12 starts proved Zimmermann should play a factor in next year’s rotation.
Injuries are never predictable, but they are a part of the game. Unfortunately, so is poor performance. Lowther and Wells easily could have claimed a full time rotation spot this year with something remotely close to league-average performance. Instead, the two struggled from the jump.
Wells got the call at the end of June and made a pair of relief appearances prior to three starts. He struck out seven and allowed three runs in a respectable 5.2 innings against Tampa Bay, but limped through 5 innings against Detroit. A shellacking by the Yankees briefly chased Wells from the rotation, but the Birds brought him back out of necessity.
Wells made four starts in the month of September and did little to prove he belongs. He worked just four innings against the Royals, and allowed five runs against the Yankees and Red Sox. Wells limited Texas to three runs in five innings his last time out, but allowed at least one long ball in all four starts.
It’s not difficult to understand why Wells has struggled in the majors. The 24-year-old walked only seven batters and allowed just six home runs over 54.2 innings at Norfolk this season. He walked 14 batters and allowed nine homers in 36.2 innings for the Orioles. Big league hitters are better hitters. They wait for the right pitch, and take advantage of mistakes. Still, pitchers like Wells can be successful. The guy has to locate his pitches.
Lowther started eight games at Triple-A and posted numbers similar to his big league stats. If you watched Lowther pitch for the Orioles this season, you know that’s not a good thing. The numbers are ugly, but Lowther did impress in a pair of starts this month. The 25-year-old held the Royals to one run in six innings and tossed five scoreless his last time out against the Rangers.
Lowther has not allowed homers at the same clip as Wells, but he walked multiple hitters in all four September starts. It’s not a recipe for success.
It’s difficult to view Lowther or Wells as a significant piece moving forward, but both will receive an opportunity to build on rookie campaigns next season. It would be considered a success if any of the three lefties became a mainstay in the rotation.
The Orioles have other pitching prospects ranked higher than these three, but it’s this group’s turn to prove that they belong. Ideally, all three of them would have spent more time on the active roster this season, but it’s better late than never for the trio.