Baltimore Orioles

Orioles rookie pitchers leaving strong final impressions in bids for 2022 rotation spots

Cedric Mullins achieving the Orioles’ first 30-30 season was understandably the highlight Friday night, but it shouldn’t be lost that left-hander Alexander Wells provided a third straight solid start from a Baltimore rookie.

Wells followed Keegan Akin and Zac Lowther with five innings of three-run ball against the Texas Rangers, recovering from a two-out, two-run home run in the first inning to allow one run over his final four frames. In what turned out to be his final start of the year before he was placed on the 10-day injured list Friday with a left adductor strain, Akin took a shutout into the sixth inning Wednesday against a Philadelphia Phillies team pursuing a playoff spot. Lowther then worked five scoreless innings against Texas on Thursday.


“I attacked the strike zone, made a mistake in the first inning, which cost me a little bit, but I minimized damage later on in the game when I got into a bit of trouble,” Wells said. “So yeah, it was a good outing for me.”

Of course, those starts came facing teams outside of the American League East, a division featuring four playoff contenders and an Orioles club with a pitching staff they’ve all feasted on. That trio of left-handers accounts for half of the six pitchers who entered this year among the Orioles’ top 20 prospects, according to Baseball America, who have pitched for them this year, with Dean Kremer, Bruce Zimmermann and Mike Baumann being the others. Those six have collectively combined for an abysmal 8.45 ERA against the AL East and a not-impressive-but-much-better 5.46 ERA against teams outside of the division.


Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has not been shy about these September starts against contending teams being auditions for Lowther and Wells, who have spent most of the year moving up and down between Triple-A and the majors. Akin got a similar late-season experience last year, making a handful of major league outings that were enough to pencil him into Baltimore’s 2021 rotation.

But he struggled with his command in spring training to the point that the Orioles had him begin the year at their alternate training site, and he’s spent most of this year being bludgeoned by opposing teams. He ended the season on a high note; in three of his final six starts, including Wednesday, he allowed exactly one run, with one of the three exceptions a start in which he allowed no hits in the first six innings.

“I thought Keegan had the rocky start but improved over the course of the year,” Hyde said. “Especially the last couple times he took the mound, I thought the offspeed stuff improved, especially after the first or second inning. I think he learned a lot this year, dealt with some adversity. It was more of a normal year than what he kind of experienced last year, so to be able to pitch against AL East teams as well as teams from outside our division and learn how hitters we’re gonna react to his stuff, understand what he needs to improve on going into next year, so I think there was a lot of positives from kind of up and down season for him.”

Baumann, the highest-ranked prospect of the group, is the only one to not get a start, with Baltimore deciding to shut him down for the season after four major league relief appearances. In his final outing, he held the Rangers scoreless in 1 1/3 innings.

Hyde said it was too early to make any statement on Baumann’s chance at a rotation spot in 2022. But given the openings in Baltimore behind John Means, any of the six pitchers could get that consideration.

“It was fun to see him,” Hyde said of Baumann, who ended his major league cameo with a 9.90 ERA. “I like the presence on the mound. It’s gonna be a mid 90s fastball. I think as he got a little bit more comfortable, I thought you saw him throw a few more breaking balls. I like his pitch mix. [Wednesday] night wasn’t his best night out that he had for us, but it’s gonna be a guy that’s gonna throw strikes and pound the zone and attack hitters. I like his aggressiveness, so we have high hopes for him.”

Zimmermann has the lowest ERA among the group (4.83), but he hasn’t pitched for the Orioles since June because of bicep and ankle injuries. He made a rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday and could return to the majors before the end of the season. That means potential matchups with the Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays, two of the AL East teams in the playoff hunt. Like his fellow lefties, he would get a chance to make a strong last impression.