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Tyler Wells is combatting his pitch limit by throwing strikes

The former Rule 5 pick has maximized his pitch limit by avoiding the free pass. Has he solidified a spot in the rotation?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Baltimore Orioles
Tyler Wells (probably) throwing a strike.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles turning in four consecutive quality starts turned plenty of heads this week, but one outing represented a larger surprise than others. It’s always nice to see guys like Jordan Lyles and Bruce Zimmermann keep their opponent at three runs or less, and it’s extremely encouraging to see Kyle Bradish experiencing immediate success, but another starter made headlines just for completing the sixth inning.

Tyler Wells needed 75 pitches to toss six frames against the Royals on Monday. The number was significant because, well, the Orioles likely were never going to permit Wells to exceed 75 pitches. Despite a pitch limit, Wells has worked effectively in his last three outings. The righty appears determined to prove that he can hack it as a starting pitcher.

Baltimore converting Wells into a starter has made for one of the more intriguing storylines of the young season. The narrative will not receive the same fanfare as Grayson Rodriguez or D.L. Hall working their way to Camden Yards, but any story that ends with a capable starting pitcher in Baltimore represents a happy ending for the organization.

Wells limited Kansas City to just one run on five hits. He struck out three batters and picked up his first win as a starter. Wells took a difficult loss after allowing only one run in five innings against Minnesota and did not receive a decision after surrendering two runs over five frames in New York.

There are several numbers to like, but one will bring a smile to even the most cynical fan. Wells has not walked a batter in his last four outings.

The lack of walks is significant and it goes beyond just keeping runners off the base paths. Wells knows that he’s working with a pitch limit so the hurler is making each one count. Throwing strikes and keeping the pitch count low is the best way for Wells to help his team and maximize each outing.

A look ahead shows Rodriguez and Hall getting the call, but neither will be expected to work deep into games right away. Bradish tossing seven strong last night is encouraging, but Brandon Hyde will still need to tinker to avoid taxing his bullpen with several young arms in the rotation.

The absence of John Means, paired with the arrival of three rookies, effectively makes Zimmermann and Lyles the veterans of the group. Wells continuing to attack the strike zone would represent a tremendous effort of leading by example.

Wells has managed to avoid free passes while still perfecting his four pitch mix. He throws his four-seam fastball 38.1% of the time and uses his changeup at a 21.3% clip. He complements the slider (19.7%) with a curveball at 17.1%. Wells has also mixed in a rare sinker.

The slider and curveball representing nearly 40% of his pitches is plenty to keep batters on their toes. Wells’ fastball spin rate ranks in the 94th percentile and his curveball spin ranks in the top third of the league.

Batters have still managed to hit the fastball hard, but hitters have just a .152 expecting batting average against his changeup. With a .166 XBA on the curveball, the offspeed stuff appears to be doing the trick so far.

It remains to be seen whether the Orioles will provide Wells more slack as the season goes on or if they would consider shutting him down. The club provided him an extra day of rest this week after a pair of rain delays, and the club will likely look to steal an extra day or even a start every once in a while. Baltimore could shift the former Rule 5 pick back to the bullpen to minimize innings, but it seems risky to keep messing with the 27-year-old’s role.

Hyde made a point to credit several people after Wells’ victory over the Royals. The O’s skipper pointed to the club’s pitching coaches and the strength and conditioning staff that has helped Wells prepare for a greater workload. He made it clear that the Orioles are monitoring Wells so closely because they truly believe that he is an important part of the organization’s future.

Wells still has plenty of work left to do, but his recent outings are enough to justify his place in the rotation. His pitch count may be out of his control, but throwing strikes should keep him right where he wants to be.