MINNEAPOLIS — As effective as Tyler Wells has been since donning an Orioles uniform, it becomes easy to forget he was not only a player Baltimore acquired through in 2020′s Rule 5 draft, but also the second player they plucked from another organization that year in that manner.
In Wells’ case, that franchise was the Minnesota Twins, who he held to one run in six innings Sunday to lead the Orioles to a sweep-avoiding 3-1 victory at Target Field. Having selected Wells in the 15th round of 2016′s draft, Minnesota left Wells off its 40-man roster after the 2020 season, Wells’ second straight lost year between recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and coronavirus-related cancellations. He now has a 3.09 ERA this year for Baltimore (36-44), the fourth-lowest by an Oriole through 16 starts since 2008.
“That’s amazing, unbelievable,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde of Wells’ climb from Rule 5 to rotation regular. “He didn’t pitch the two years prior to that. What he did last year was unbelievable. Now what he’s doing this year is even more so. We’re all excited about him.”
After Baltimore used its first pick in the Rule 5 draft on another right-hander in Mac Sceroler, they devoted a 40-man spot to Wells. As Rule 5 picks, they had to stay on the major league roster all year to remain with the Orioles. Sceroler barely lasted three months before being returned to the Cincinnati Reds. Meanwhile, Wells went from mop-up duty to the closer’s role as a rookie before Baltimore elected to make him a starter, his role climbing up the Twins’ system.
Sunday, he showed his old organization what could have been.
“It’s part of the business,” Wells said. “There are things that they missed out on, and I’m very fortunate to be here with all these great guys and be able to contribute to this organization.”
He’s handled a challenging transition immensely well. Despite the Orioles being cautious with his pitch counts and innings coming off three years in which he pitched fewer than 60 innings combined, the 27-year-old has arguably been their most consistent starter. He’s completed six innings in four of his past seven starts, posting a 1.66 ERA in that span. In his last four outings, he’s given up three runs over 22 innings, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning of each of his past two appearances.
“Wellsy, I think, sometimes flies under the radar and maybe isn’t talked about enough,” said designated hitter Trey Mancini, who hit one of three home runs to back Wells on Sunday. “But he’s done such an incredible job this year.”
With the Orioles coming off a pair of disappointing walk-off losses, Wells set career highs with seven strikeouts and 14 swings and misses. Through four innings, an error from second baseman Rougned Odor accounted for the only base runner against him, though Odor made up for it in the fifth with the first of Baltimore’s three solo shots. With one out in the bottom half of that frame, Nick Gordon doubled, only the second hit Wells had allowed to the past 38 batters he faced.
“Seems like we’re running out there on the field for a couple minutes and then just running back every time,” first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said.
After Mancini andMountcastle hit back-to-back home runs on consecutive pitches in the sixth, Wells opened the bottom half with his first walk. A single followed, but Wells broke star shortstop Carlos Correa’s bat for a double play. Jorge Polanco worked a seven-pitch at-bat and singled to make that leadoff walk sting, but Wells recovered to close the sixth, giving Baltimore starters a 1.46 ERA over the past 13 games.
Wells said starting a game at Target Field, where he pitched in relief last year, was “cool because this is where I thought I’d be.” He savored the opportunity to compete against close friends Alex Kirilloff and Luis Arraez, who went a combined 1-for-5 with two strikeouts against him, and catch up with old coaches.
But after a tough couple of games for his team, the victory was what was most appreciated.
“It’s been great to watch a young player develop up here,” Hyde said. “Pitching against a first-place club, ultra competitive. He has been outstanding.”
Bullpen bounces back
Unlike the first two games of the series, the Orioles’ bullpen made that lead stand, even without its primary backend arms.
Hyde was clear after Saturday’s loss that closer Jorge López would be unavailable Sunday after consecutive blown saves. Setup man Félix Bautista also pitched in those defeats, and left-hander Cionel Pérez warmed up several times Saturday after pitching Friday, prompting Hyde to try to operate without his typical late-inning options.
After Wells, he went to long reliever Keegan Akin, possibly hoping the left-hander could become the first Oriole with three-inning saves in consecutive outings. But Akin recorded only one out as he struggled with his command, ending his MLB-record streak of 19 straight relief appearances of at least two innings to open the season. Joey Krehbiel then recorded the next five outs, getting the game to the ninth.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Dillon Tate handled it cleanly for his second save.
The Orioles finished this 10-game road trip through Chicago, Seattle and Minnesota at 5-5, allowing two or fewer runs in six contests. It would have been eight had López closed out Friday and Saturday’s games.
“We had a couple tough ninth innings here,” Hyde said, “but we have pitched so well this road trip.”
Monday, 1:05 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM