ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Throughout spring training and even Sunday morning leading into Tyler Wells’ first major league start, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said he would limit the 27-year-old right-hander to three or four innings throughout the year in his conversion back to starting.
Baltimore would have been fortunate to get that many frames out of Wells on Sunday. The Tampa Bay Rays knocked him around in the second inning, scoring all the runs they needed in what became an 8-0 victory to complete a season-opening sweep.
“He just didn’t have his command that he normally has today,” Hyde said. “A lot of deep counts.”
After an initial breaking-in period as a Rule 5 draftee, Wells dazzled in the Orioles’ bullpen last season to become the club’s closer, punctuating a rookie year spent in relief following two seasons in which he didn’t pitch because of Tommy John surgery and 2020′s canceled minor season. But he climbed the minors as a starter and the Orioles believe he can succeed as one in the majors, naming him the third member of their rotation despite the fact that his innings will be monitored throughout the season.
On Sunday, Wells needed 22 pitches to get through a scoreless first, but that was an efficient frame relative to what he faced in the second. After two walks, a comebacker ricocheted off his glove, a potential double-play ball turning into a bases-loading infield single. As they did all weekend, the Rays churned outs into runs, with a sacrifice fly and groundout giving them a 2-0 lead. Brandon Lowe (Maryland) doubled that advantage, hammering Wells’ 32nd pitch of the inning out to right field. With Wells on a 60-pitch limit, that home run ended his day.
“I ended up running out of gas,” Wells said. “There’s really nothing I could have done about it other than just make better quality pitches.”
The Orioles’ plan has been to have another stretched-out pitcher pair with Wells, and right-hander Dean Kremer was warming to take that role. But on one of his warmup pitches, he suffered what Hyde called a left oblique strain, likely taking him out of the running to start Tuesday and potentially prompting a stint on the injured list.
Hyde instead was forced into a bullpen game, and it went effectively until the Rays added another four runs in the seventh. But their first quartet was more than enough, with the Orioles unable to string together hits throughout the weekend. Baltimore batters went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position Sunday, finishing 2-for-24 in those situations on the weekend. Their 37 strikeouts in the series were a franchise record for the first three games of the season. Outfielder DJ Stewart, responsible for two of those strikeouts in three at-bats, was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game, leaving the Orioles with openings on both their major league and 40-man rosters.
Meanwhile, the Orioles are 0-3 for the first time since 2007 and have lost 15 straight games to Tampa Bay. Since sweeping the Rays in their first series of 2020, they are 2-27 in these matchups, their worst 29-game span against any opponent in franchise history.
“We didn’t swing the bat well this series,” Hyde said. “They have really good pitching. But we didn’t do a very good job swinging the bats. We didn’t make them work much. We can improve our two-strike hitting, put more pressure on their defense. We have some guys scuffling kind of early. I’d like to see them break out a little bit, but maybe we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves.”
Big Bautista — and a birthday
Wednesday morning, Hyde called Félix Bautista into his office and asked a straightforward question.
“Hey,” he recalled Hyde saying, “do you want to come with us to Tampa?”
The answer, of course, was an emphatic yes, with Bautista calling his mom, Polonia, to share the news that he was finally a major leaguer. Through team interpreter Brandon Quinones, he said she began “crying tears of joy.” The story got even better Sunday, with Bautista pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings in his major league debut as Polonia celebrated her birthday in the Dominican Republic.
“I feel really blessed to be here today,” Bautista said. “This is a special moment for me, a special day. Just really happy to go out there and compete. It was a special outing for me.”
Bautista, a 26-year-old right-hander conservatively listed at 6-foot-5, had a long journey to Sunday. Signed out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager by the Miami Marlins, he battled control issues and was released, landing in the Orioles’ system in 2016. He opened last year as a 25-year-old in High-A, only to thrive as a reliever across three levels with his imposing build and stuff.
He showed off both Sunday. Entering in relief of Wells, Bautista began his major league career by striking out former No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco, getting the young star to swing through two fastballs and flail at a changeup to close the second. He got the ball from that strikeout, planning to give it to his mom when he sees her next.
“I dedicated that strikeout to her and this performance to her,” Bautista said.
Back out for the third after Kremer’s injury, Bautista got reigning American League Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena to chase a slider in the dirt. In all, Rays batters missed five of their 10 swings against Bautista, who got his fastball up to 99.1 mph, according to Statcast.
“It’s a 6-[foot]-8, high arm slot, 99 miles an hour,” Hyde said. “It’s a unique look and good stuff. That was the highlight of the day.”
Fry in the fray
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Left-hander Paul Fry’s drastic troubles late in the year against the Rays led to him finishing the year at Triple-A. He perhaps seemed to shake them in Friday’s season opener, entering with the bases loaded and stranding three all three Tampa Bay runners.
But the Rays again pestered him Sunday. After Joey Krehbiel and Bryan Baker combined for three scoreless innings behind Bautista, Baker allowed an infield single to open the seventh, with second baseman Rougned Odor not charged with an error on a poor throw. Fry entered and allowed five of the next seven Rays to reach base as Tampa Bay doubled its lead.
Fry followed that stretch by retiring three of the next four batters. Sunday, he allowed three earned runs in two innings against the Rays. In his last five appearances against them in 2021, he surrendered 15 earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. Since the start of last season, Fry has a 27.00 ERA against Tampa Bay and a 2.95 ERA against everyone else.
Monday, 3:05 p.m.
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