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Tyler Wells could give the Orioles bullpen exactly what it needs

Tyler Wells emerged as Baltimore’s best starter before suffering an injury at the end of July. Now, with the rotation thriving, Wells is poised to give the Orioles one more late-inning reliever.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles earned national praise from the way their pitching staff went into Houston and dominated the best team in the American League. Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer and Austin Voth are not rostered on many fantasy baseball teams (Kremer leads the way on ESPN with just 9.6%), but the trio delivered three consecutive quality starts against the Astros.

John Beers hit the nail on the head yesterday when he pointed out how far Baltimore’s staff has come this season. The Orioles will not get eight shutout innings every night, but the club can reasonably expect its starters to keep the team in the game on a daily basis.

The Orioles took a gut punch early in the season when they lost John Means, but the staff did its best to stay afloat. Baltimore received a significant boost from an experiment that was not guaranteed to succeed.

The Orioles selected Tyler Wells in the second round of the 2020 Rule 5 draft. Wells struggled out of the gate with seven earned runs in his first 10 innings, but the righty put everything together in the month of June. Wells posted a minuscule 0.628 WHIP and 1.26 ERA in 10 outings. He earned higher leverage appearances and established himself as the best reliever on a struggling baseball team.

Wells finished the year with only four saves, but the Orioles appeared to have their closer of the future on the roster. The 6-foot-8 hurler possessed an intimidating presence and a four-seam fastball to match. Still, Baltimore saw more than just a one-inning guy in the Tulsa native.

The Orioles went to Sarasota with a plan to stretch out Wells and give him an opportunity to start games. Wells started in the minors with Minnesota, and Baltimore saw the potential. He earned a spot in the rotation with a strong spring, and the Orioles sent him out every fifth day.

Baltimore limited Wells early on. They pulled the sophomore after four shutout innings on April 27, and did not allow him to complete six innings until May 9. Wells did not throw more than 80 pitches in a game until May 30, and he did not exceed 90 pitches before June 22.

The work limit appeared to be a blessing in disguise. Wells made the most of every pitch by attacking hitters early on. He went five consecutive outings without walking a batter from April 21 to May 15. He walked two batters or less in every appearance but one with the outlier coming in five scoreless innings against the Nationals.

Wells regressed in his final four starts before heading to the injured list at the end of July with a grade one oblique strain. The righty is finally nearing a return, but the Orioles have yet to disclose what type of role he will have down the stretch.

The emergence of Bradish, Voth, Kremer and Watkins leave little room in the rotation. Jordan Lyles continues to eat innings, and the Orioles appear set to dance with the ones that brought them.

Baltimore’s bullpen has shined all season, but the unit appears in need of some assistance on nights when Félix Bautista is not available. Cionel Pérez and Dillon Tate are trustworthy with the game on the line, but Bryan Baker and Joey Krehbiel have been forced into high-leverage situations more often than Brandon Hyde may like.

Wells has experience pitching late in games and would be capable of getting more than three outs when needed. Shifting Wells to the bullpen would also expedite his return to the majors. Hyde said last week that the longer the club needs to stretch him out, the longer it will take to get him to Baltimore. Wells threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session yesterday and is nearing his first rehab assignment.

The Orioles gave DL Hall one start before returning him to the minors and converting him to a reliever for the remainder of the season. Hall and Wells could bolster an already impressive bullpen anchored by Bautista, or they could team up for some form of tandem format. Keegan Akin provided excellent long relief in the first half, but opponents are hitting .346 off the lefty since the All-Star break.

Wells squashed concerns that moving to the rotation could hamper his development, but returning to the bullpen this year would provide another test. Wells went to a true four-pitch mix as a starter this season after primarily using his fastball and slider in 2021. Opponents struggled against all three of his off-speed pitches this year with expected batting averages below .200 on the curveball and changeup.

A move to the bullpen would also keep the innings down. Wells already has 94.2 innings in the bag after throwing 57 last year. Wells missed a few weeks with tendinitis in his right wrist last year and ended the season with right shoulder inflammation. A move to the bullpen could potentially mess with his development, but another injury definitely would.

The Orioles have balanced competing this year while keeping long term aspirations in mind all season. Moving Tyler Wells to the bullpen could help protect his future while giving this year’s club a boost at the same time.