PHILADELPHIA — When rookie closer Tyler Wells blew his second save in as many outings last week, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was asked whether he was confident the young pitcher would be able to bounce back.
“The answer is always yes,” Hyde said.
It took a few days for Baltimore to play another close game to bring Wells into, but he hasn’t waited long to prove Hyde right. He pitched a clean ninth inning Monday against the middle of the Philadelphia Phillies’ order in Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen — two former MVPs around one of the best catchers in baseball — to earn his third save. Pitching back-to-back days for only the second time since the start of July, he worked another perfect ninth Tuesday to send the game to extra innings.
The six earned runs Wells allowed over 1 ⅓ innings in consecutive blown saves against the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays matched the total he had allowed in his previous 25 outings, as did the pair of walks he issued in those rough appearances. But he’s returned to his strike zone-pounding ways against the Phillies.
Wells, 27, said his struggles in those outings is the result of end-of-the-season fatigue, which is somewhat understandable given his circumstances. He entered 2021 having not pitched in two years because of Tommy John surgery and the coronavirus pandemic, but even before that, he had only a handful of outings in Double-A when the Orioles plucked him from the Minnesota Twins organization with their second pick of the Rule 5 draft.
In a Baltimore bullpen filled with other inexperienced options, he quickly worked his way to the back of Hyde’s bullpen.
“I think we all have to remember where Tyler Wells was a couple years ago, and how hard the last three outs are to get in the American League East,” Hyde said after Wells’ blown save against New York on Sept. 15. “That’s why closers make money. That’s why closers usually pitch for a while before they move into the closer’s role, and Tyler Wells is just getting his feet wet in the big leagues and I’m putting him in really, really difficult spots. I just think the guy can handle it. I love the makeup. I think he’s gonna be a heck of a major league pitcher for a long time.”
Even with the recent struggles, Wells has a 3.12 ERA since the start of June, a strong improvement over the 5.48 mark he carried into that month. In that span, he’s struck out nearly 10 times as many batters as he’s walked.
With the Orioles in a rebuild where they’re evaluating whether every player can be a part of their future, Wells is one of the few on the pitching side who have clearly established that they should be. In some ways, he’s thankful for his struggles to close out this year. He believes it’ll make him better for Baltimore in 2022.
“I would say that fatigue is starting to set in,” Wells said. “It’s [my] first 162 games, and I think that honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m happy that I’m feeling this fatigue, primarily because it just gives me an opportunity to learn and it gives me an opportunity to really kind of address what I need to address in the offseason and prepare myself for next year. I just feel like I know what I need to do now to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, hopefully next year.”