TORONTO — Look around the Orioles starting rotation, and the holes are incredibly apparent. Left-hander John Means and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez are injured, left-hander Bruce Zimmermann was sent down to the minors and right-hander Kyle Bradish is experiencing the lumps that can follow a first-year major leaguer.
And yet right-hander Tyler Wells, perhaps the unlikeliest of the group, has become the steadying presence Baltimore so badly needs in a rotation with so little set in stone. Around this time last year, Wells was just emerging as a late-inning reliever for the Orioles, well on his way to becoming the closer.
Fast forward to Thursday, and there was Wells completing six innings for the third time in his last four starts, breezing through a Toronto Blue Jays lineup that had given fits to the other three Orioles starters who faced them this week. While Baltimore’s offense gave Wells ample breathing room in the 10-2 victory, he didn’t require it.
“He’s giving us a chance every time out here lately,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “That’s a really, really good lineup that he went six innings against.”
Between Bradish, Jordan Lyles and Zimmermann, Orioles starters allowed 15 earned runs in the first three games of the series. Then came Wells, who allowed one run on five hits while walking one batter and striking out three. His lone blemish came against outfielder Teoscar Hernández, who has done damage to several Orioles (28-37) pitchers this week. He offered at a high-and-outside fastball and blasted it an estimated 429 feet to left-center field, breaking a string of nine straight outs Wells recorded.
But beyond that, there was hardly any traffic against Wells, who worked around a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. double in the sixth inning. An early at-bat against Guerrero was especially impressive, as he tied the slugger up with consecutive changeups under the hands.
Wells’ fastball and slider combination gets most of the attention, and Hyde said Wells’ slider looks back to its best after an off stretch last month. But that changeup drew four whiffs, the most of any pitch, and he mixed it in nearly as much as the slider.
“You’ve just got to make sure you’re able to spot it up and not leave it in the middle, because if you leave your changeup in the middle, it can get crushed sometimes,” Wells said.
It led to another quality start from Wells, the only Orioles starter to allow three runs or fewer in six innings since Lyles did so May 23. In the time since, Wells has done it three times, and he appears poised to maintain his place as the steadying presence in an unsteady rotation.
“Best way to put it, I’m just happy to be efficient,” Wells said. “I’m just happy to take some innings off our bullpen. I’m just happy to give our team a chance to win.”
A not-so-happy reunion
If Kevin Gausman had expected a more welcoming reception from the Orioles, the team he pitched with for six years before a 2018 trade to the Atlanta Braves signaled the start of a rebuild in Baltimore, he was sorely mistaken. The Blue Jays starter couldn’t escape the third inning, watching as knock after knock found gaps.
The Orioles chased Gausman after 2 1/3 innings, unloading on the 31-year-old with seven hits — including three doubles — in the third. Baltimore plated six runners in that frame, matching its season high for a single inning.
“Seeing guys ahead of us have success and talking to each other in the dugout, stuff that we had seen from him, stuff he was trying to attack us with, we had a good approach that inning,” said outfielder Ryan McKenna, who hit one of the doubles off Gausman, the Orioles’ No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
The ambush against Gausman — who entered with a 2.67 ERA — was part of a bigger breakout in the final game of the series, which ended an eight-game road trip with four wins and four losses.
Seven players drove in runs, but the only homer came from Austin Hays, a solo shot in the eighth. The Orioles finished with 13 hits, part of an onslaught against Gausman and the relievers that followed him that backed up Wells in a big way.
A week ago, when the Orioles were on the outset of this eight-game, eight-day road trip, Adley Rutschman found himself in a difficult position. The rookie catcher pinch hit in the eighth inning and powered a ball to the warning track, the kind of drive that gives hope off the bat before landing in a glove.
With that near-hit, Rutschman’s batting average dropped to .143 in his first 15 games. But the next day, a change in Rutschman’s fortunes arrived, and he carried that to the end of this road trip. The rookie catcher hit another double Thursday, giving him five in his last seven games and raising his batting average during that span to .308.
“Just getting more comfortable,” Hyde said. “Seeing more major league pitching.”
Rutschman added his first home run Wednesday, going deep off right-hander José Berríos to earn a chance to wear the home run chain for the first time. “I’ve been waiting to wear that thing for a while now,” he said.
“To be able to get the first one out of the way is definitely a relief,” said Rutschman, who received a hug from first baseman Trey Mancini upon his return to the dugout. “To have that kind of support from all the guys in the dugout, everyone being excited for you when you have a big moment, it definitely makes things a lot better when you have people around you that care about your success.”
Around the horn
Baltimore Orioles Insider
>> Outfielder Kyle Stowers and right-hander Rico Garcia will return to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday, Hyde said, ending their stint as replacement players when the Orioles reinstate outfielder Anthony Santander and left-hander Keegan Akin from the restricted list.
>> Hyde said infielder Ramón Urías might not be ready for activation when his 10-day injured list stint expires Tuesday. Urías is dealing with a left oblique strain that he first felt during batting practice Friday in Kansas City.
>> With left-hander Bruce Zimmermann optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, there’s a hole in Baltimore’s rotation. A day off Monday pushes the need for a replacement back for the time being, but left-hander DL Hall could be a candidate. He threw 89 pitches while striking out 11 batters for the Tides on Thursday in 4 1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits. Hall threw more pitches than Zimmermann has thrown in any of his starts this season.
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