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The Tyler Wells starting pitching experiment worked wonders for the Orioles

The converted reliever shined as a starter before an oblique strain and shoulder inflammation derailed his season.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles selected Tyler Wells in the second round of the 2020 Rule 5 draft. Wells came to Baltimore as a 26-year-old who had not pitched competitively since undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2019. The Birds planned to stash him in the bullpen and see if he could pick up where he left off in the Twins system.

Everybody knows what happened next.

Wells emerged as Baltimore’s top reliever and ended 2021 as the team’s closer. He posted a 0.912 WHIP in his rookie season and appeared poised to anchor a thin bullpen in 2022. The Orioles had other plans for the Cal State product.

Baltimore stretched out Wells in spring training and elected to give him a crack in the rotation at the beginning of the season. The righty failed to complete the second inning in his first outing against the Rays, but the starting “experiment” blossomed after that.

Wells tossed four scoreless innings his next time out against the Yankees and limited opponents to three runs or fewer in his next 17 starts. He lowered his ERA to 3.09 after holding his former organization to just one run in six innings to start the month of July.

Quality starts were hard to come by early on with the Orioles limiting his workload. Wells failed to exceed 80 pitches until his 10th start, but still managed to work relatively deep into games. He accomplished the feat by pounding the strike zone early and often.

The Tusla native did not walk a batter from April 21 to May 20. The five game stretch included a six-inning appearance against Kansas City that yielded Wells his first win of the season. The Orioles were able to slowly stretch out Wells without taxing their bullpen every time he pitched.

An early injury to John Means should have derailed Baltimore’s rotation, but the emergence of Wells helped keep the train on the tracks. The former Rule Fiver transformed from a question mark to the best pitcher in the rotation by the end of June.

Taking the ball every fifth day required Wells to rely on his secondary pitches. Wells threw a fastball or a slider over 85 percent of the time in 2021. That number dropped to 68 percent in 2022 with Wells utilizing a curveball and changeup more often.

Almost every starter needs more than two pitches, but Wells used the new mix to his advantage. Opponents posted a .180 xBA (expected batting average) against his changeup and a minuscule .160 xBA against the curve. Wells wasn’t just keeping batters guessing with the offspeed pitches, he was getting them out.

He hit a bit of a rough patch before ending up on the injured list at the end of July. He suffered a grade one oblique strain that kept him out of the rotation until September.

Wells made only one rehab start with Aberdeen before returning to the active roster. Brandon Hyde said the club planned to have Wells complete his rehab outings at the major league level. The year had come full circle with the righty once again attempting to stretch out while pitching in the rotation.

Wells allowed one run in two innings during an eventual loss to Toronto. He struggled through two more abridged starts before the Birds pulled the plug. Wells ended the season back on the injured list with shoulder inflammation.

The Orioles likely would have allowed Wells to complete his rehab in the minors if they were not chasing a playoff spot. The rehab experiment may not have panned out, but the starting role should be here to stay. Still, Wells’ future remains a bit of a mystery.

Grayson Rodriguez should start next season in the rotation. Jordan Lyles could return, and the Orioles are likely to add at least one free agent to the picture. Austin Voth pitched extremely well down the stretch, and DL Hall could return to the rotation after a stint in the bullpen late last year. Kyle Bradish demonstrated enough potential to lock up a spot, and Spenser Watkins will come to Sarasota ready to compete.

Still, there should be room for Wells with John Means set to miss the start of the season. The Orioles know Wells can pitch in relief, but his body of work in 2022 should give him a leg up over Watkins, Hall and potentially others.

Previous 2022 Orioles player reviews: Bruce Zimmermann, Robinson Chirinos, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Nick Vespi/Logan Gillaspie, Spenser Watkins, Rougned Odor, Ryan McKenna, Kyle Bradish, Austin Hays, Keegan Akin, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Jordan Lyles, Bryan Baker

Tomorrow: Austin Voth