BOSTON — The bullpen had begun to move between innings, relievers milling about to stretch or throw weighted balls against the padded wall. But none stood on the mound to warm up in earnest, even though right-hander Tyler Wells had thrown 75 pitches, four shy of his career high, through five innings.
The Orioles (21-29) have been especially cautious with Wells this season. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019 and missed the 2020 season because the coronavirus prompted the cancelation of the minor league season.
But on Monday night at Fenway Park, the reins that have been holding Wells back for much of the campaign were loosened — not entirely, but enough to allow for the best start of his career, offering a glimmer of what could be possible come 2023, when the reins are released entirely.
Wells’ display was the launching pad for Baltimore, but the bats did the rest in the 10-0 victory that sealed a five-game series win. The closer-turned-starter completed six innings for the second time this season. He turned in his longest scoreless stretch, threw a career-high 88 pitches and allowed just one base runner to reach scoring position.
“I told [manager Brandon Hyde], I’m trying to go out there and pitch for as long as I can for as long as you’ll let me,” Wells said. “And so far, I’ve felt really good. Felt really good tonight. But if I do get to a point where I need to communicate with him, like, ‘Hey, maybe I’m not feeling great,’ then I’ll have that conversation. But so far it’s been great.”
Wells retired 18 of the 21 batters he faced, with a single in the second, a double in the fourth and a walk in the fifth the lone imperfections on his night. With Wells’ strong start, the Orioles went on to shut out an opponent for the fourth time this season. They had managed to do that just five times throughout 2021.
This is the Wells that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias envisions becoming a fixture in the rotation. And it’s why Baltimore has been so wary of stretching him out too long. Wells has hovered around 70 or 75 pitches for most of this season, with an early hook from Hyde always in the back of his mind.
That early hook might’ve been there Monday, too, if he hadn’t been so dominant. Wells’ 11 whiffs were his second most this season, with six coming on his slider. Even when Wells returned to the mound for the sixth inning, already at 75 pitches, the Orioles’ bullpen hadn’t escalated past stretching. It was his inning alone, and he rewarded his manager with yet another 1-2-3 frame.
“He was cruising tonight,” Hyde said. “Wellsy set the tone for us.”
The only reason the ball off Ryan Mountcastle’s bat stayed inside the premises of Fenway Park was because it collided with an advertisement board that now sticks up from the top of the Green Monster. Beyond that, Mountcastle’s homer would’ve cleared the fence at every other major league ballpark.
He gave a skip out of the box and began his trot, a solo shot that left his dismal week in the past. The first baseman had hit .179 last week with 11 strikeouts in seven games. But Mountcastle, along with the rest of the Orioles lineup, closed the five-game set with Boston on the highest of high notes.
“It was a matter of time for him,” Hyde said. “Ryan’s gonna put up big numbers at the end of this year. He’s just got to be a little bit patient and the homers are going to come, the hits are going to come.”
Mountcastle recorded four hits. Trey Mancini added three. Jorge Mateo and Adley Rutschman both notched two. Anthony Santander and Ramón Urías each sent long balls of their own into the night. It was part of a breakout 14-hit display to rebound from a blowout loss Sunday.
For Mountcastle in particular, however, it’s a promising sign. His home run rate entering Monday was 3.21%, down from 5.63% in 2021. His pull rate was also lower than usual, although the hanging curveball from left-hander Rich Hill allowed Mountcastle to crush the ball to left.
“I feel like I’ve been seeing the ball great, just not really getting the bat on the ball,” Mountcastle said. “Today I finally did, and it feels good.”
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There was hard contact all night against Hill. Through two innings, the softest exit velocity off the 42-year-old was a 99-mph flyout. Mountcastle recorded the slowest of Hill’s outing in the third, but the 61.9 mph dribbler still went for an infield single.
There were myriad strong performances, between Mountcastle and Wells and others. They combined into a promising series finale, a boost after a hectic four-day, five-game spell at Fenway Park.
“This road trip was not easy, especially being here in Boston, playing a bunch of games,” Mountcastle said at the end of an extended 7-8 stint against American League East opponents to end the month. “It seems like that was kind of the first time we really put a team in the dirt a little bit early.”
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