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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles reset: After unpredictable season, Baltimore will enter 2023 with ‘promising’ rotation outlook

If not for Tyler Wells’ entry and exit from a pair of injuries, the Orioles’ rotation would have largely remained the same over the latter portion of the season. But even manager Brandon Hyde didn’t see this group being the one to provide that consistency.

“If you would have told me that our rotation is this at this time of year,” Hyde said earlier this month, “I would have been a little confused.”

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Aside from veteran Jordan Lyles, the Orioles’ end-of-season rotation looks far different from how it began the year and even what would have been reasonably projected at this time. Opening day starter John Means made two appearances before undergoing season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. A Grade 2 lat muscle strain kept top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez from what was expected to be a midseason debut. Fellow top minor league arm DL Hall is working out of Baltimore’s bullpen to manage his innings coming off a 2021 campaign in which he was limited by a stress fracture in his pitching elbow.

But this week showed that even though the Orioles are ending the season with a rotation that features only one pitcher who started the year in it, Baltimore can enter the offseason with confidence in its starting pitching options for 2023.

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The lone holdover, Lyles, pitched a one-run complete game against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday in what might prove to be his final home start at Camden Yards; the contract he signed last offseason with Baltimore includes an $11 million team option for next year.

Following his lead, Kyle Bradish, a rookie who has impressed since returning from right shoulder inflammation, struck out 10 with no walks in 8 2/3 scoreless innings against the American League-best Houston Astros. The next day, Dean Kremer, who was set to open the year in the bullpen before suffering an oblique injury while warming up for his first outing, tossed a shutout. The pair has combined for a 2.93 ERA in 31 outings, all but one a start, since their respective injured list stints.

“I think it’s very promising,” Hyde said. “These two guys, it’s been a pleasure watching them and watching young pitchers, it makes you really excited about the future with the ability these guys have. And there’s still room for improvement, and they’re having great years, so fun to watch the progress they’ve made and really excited about them going forward into next year.”

Add in a solid spot start from rookie Mike Baumann in Wells’ place and five effective innings from Austin Voth over the weekend, and the Orioles received their best turn through their rotation in years. And all but Lyles are guaranteed to contend for a rotation spot next spring.

Orioles pitcher Kyle Bradish pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings in Thursday night's 2-0 victory over the Astros.

Among those joining them will be Rodriguez and Hall. Rodriguez will make his last start before the end of the Triple-A season Monday, his sixth outing since returning from the lat strain. It’s not out of the question he gets a start with Baltimore before the season ends. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has said Hall will enter next spring as a starter, though it’s not yet known whether he’ll work in that role in the majors or minors.

Wells’ first season as a major league starter ended sooner than he hoped it would, but he showed enough in the role for Hyde to say he expects him back in it come spring. Voth, a 30-year-old inserted into the rotation out of need after being claimed from the Washington Nationals, has been a revelation, with a 2.77 ERA working mostly out of the rotation for Baltimore. Like Bradish and Kremer — who he combined with to allow three earned runs in 44 1/3 innings against the 101-win Astros — Voth has earned the opportunity to start for the Orioles next year, especially given they’ll begin the season awaiting Means’ return.

“He’s put himself on the map for us for sure of a guy that can do multiple things,” Hyde said.

Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann both got extended looks in the Orioles’ rotation this year and, by remaining on the 40-man roster, could factor into next season’s plans. With Elias saying he expects the Orioles’ payroll to increase, it should be expected for the club to add at least one starter over the winter, whether it be through free agency or by trading from a stockpile of talented hitting prospects.

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Hyde said the ideal situation is to enter spring training “with eight or nine starting pitching candidates.” The past week exemplified that it’s plausible the Orioles go into the offseason with that many.

What’s to come?

The last road trip of the year could feature history, a clinch and the end of postseason hopes, all at the Orioles’ expense.

Baltimore’s playoff possibilities could be dashed during a week that begins with a four-game visit to the Boston Red Sox and closes with three road games against the New York Yankees, who are on the verge of clinching the American League East and could do so before the Orioles arrive. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is also on the precipice of setting the AL record for home runs, and should the Toronto Blue Jays avoid surrendering it, he could accomplish the feat against Baltimore.

Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander, right, reacts in jubilation toward the dugout after hitting a two-run home run during the eighth inning Friday night against the Astros.

What was good?

Adley Rutschman’s debut was the turning point in Baltimore’s season. Gunnar Henderson provided a late-season jolt. But no Oriole has been as consistently impactful as Anthony Santander.

That continued last week as two home runs Saturday gave him 29 on the year, a total that entered Sunday as the most in the majors among switch-hitters. A switch-hitting Oriole hasn’t reached 30 home runs since Eddie Murray in 1987. Santander has markedly improved on each significant offensive metric after an injury-slowed 2021 season, slashing .246/.322/.449 with a career-best 8.4% walk rate.

“He’s had a really consistent year,” Hyde said. “The switch-hitting power ability is pretty rare. … When you have 29 homers right now, it’s hard to be quiet about it. I think that he’s had a really good year, and hopefully, he can finish strong.”

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What wasn’t?

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It was a week of missed opportunities for the Orioles. They looked listless in their first two games against the cellar-dwelling Tigers, dropping the series to the AL Central’s last-place team. They of course responded with three fantastic starts, only to close the week with consecutive losses to Houston. The time to make a push is running out.

On the farm

High-A Aberdeen came a game shy of a South Atlantic League championship, with the IronBirds’ runner-up finish bringing an end to Heston Kjerstad’s long-awaited professional debut.

The second overall pick in the 2020 draft, Kjerstad missed all of 2021 while recovering from the heart condition myocarditis. His start to this season was delayed by a hamstring strain suffered in spring training. When the 23-year-old outfielder finally took the field for Low-A Delmarva, he thrived to get a promotion to Aberdeen. His numbers dipped there, but a cumulative final line of .305/.389/.455 between the regular season and playoffs, with a stint in the Arizona Fall League still to come, is most welcome after Kjerstad went two years between being drafted and playing in an official game.

ORIOLES@RED SOX

Monday, 7:10 p.m.

TV: MASN2

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