Lighter Wells looking to haul heavier load for Orioles

SARASOTA, Fla. – Tyler Wells lost about 20 pounds during the offseason and gained a fiancée last month. Two big wins for the right-hander before he stepped onto a mound.

Wells proposed to girlfriend Melissa after taking a deep breath captured on video, the only evidence of his nervousness. He knew that she’d accept, but the moment still threatened to overwhelm him.

As he's done in his professional life, Wells came through in the clutch.

Prone to what he called “stress eating,” Wells said his weight ballooned to 275 pounds before a stricter devotion to conditioning, inspired also by his two stops on the injured list in 2022, enabled him to recapture his 38-inch waist.

The former Rule 5 pick wants to hold onto his rotation spot but insists that he hasn’t sized up the competition.  

“To be honest with you, I’m not even really looking at it at all because it’s completely out of my control,” he said yesterday morning. “I know that if I go out there and take care of what I’ve got to take care of, then I know that I’m giving myself the best opportunity and I’m giving the team the best opportunity, and that’s all that really matters to me.”

Wells was arguably the club’s most consistent starter in the first half, executing a safe landing after making the leap from rookie reliever in 2021. He strung together 17 starts in a row from April 16-July 15 with three earned runs or fewer allowed, tied for the third-longest streak in the majors, and registered a 3.38 ERA and 1.078 WHIP before the break.

The relief experiment worked, but so did the transition to starter, his usual role in the minors before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The Orioles placed Wells on the 15-day IL on July 28 with soreness in his left oblique, and again in September with right shoulder inflammation. Asked yesterday if he’s a better starter than reliever, he replied, “I would say prior to the (oblique) injury last year, yeah.”

“I think that the numbers showed it,” he said. “Granted, there were a few things I feel like I can work on and improve on, but at the same time, too, I think that I showed I’m a very capable starter, I think I’m a very capable reliever, as well. I just think I’m going to continue to just develop myself. That’s my mentality. I think my mentalities going to carry me in any direction.”

The Orioles certainly could go either way with Wells. They’re committed to a five-man rotation and three spots appear to be reserved for Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin and Grayson Rodriguez, though the latter falls a tad short of a guarantee. Close enough, though, to count him. The bullpen has lost Dillon Tate, who’s headed to the injured list with a strained right flexor/forearm strain, and Félix Bautista could join him if unable to accumulate the necessary innings while rehabbing his left knee and on a strengthening program for his right shoulder.

Wells also doesn’t know how the season is going to play out, as he’s reminded of the club’s movement past the rebuild and the respect it’s gaining in some baseball circles.

“I’m feeling like it’s going to be a good spring training in being able to see the guys and everything like that. I think we’re just going to try to enjoy our time together,” he said.

“You do have a lot of guys who have solidified themselves as some very, very good big league players, and I think that’s what’s going to make it more fun. I think that you’re going to recognize a lot of the competitiveness in a lot of these guys to continue to work to keep their own jobs. I think you’re probably going to see young guys compete, just like I did in 2021.

“That was my mentality coming in, was I just wanted to compete. Hopefully, a lot of the young guys come in and have that mentality, and I hope that everyone in here, frankly, has that mentality. And I think that we will. Especially, we’re kind of getting on that national radar. I think a lot of guys are wanting to chase something pretty special.”

Wells probably has the stamina now to keep up. He won’t use the spring training cliché of being in the best shape of his life, but he’s aiming for it later in the summer.

“I had plenty of conversations with different people,” he said. “We talked about development, and the biggest development for me was to just make sure I came in in great shape. Lost some pounds, and for me that was a personal goal, and I think a consensus it would help with my longevity.”

Improved mental health, how he processes things, also was an offseason goal. The two seemed to go hand in hand.

“Hopefully,” he said, “all of that will carry on into the season and promote everything that I was really working on.”

* Austin Voth also is in the starter/bullpen mix, with the Orioles valuing him in both roles. He’s in the thick of the competitions, returning to baseball mode after the birth of his first child, daughter Charlotte, in November.

“I’m having a lot of fun with it,” he said of the early stages of fatherhood.

The arbitration process wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable if Voth were forced to go to a hearing, but he signed a $1.85 million contract with an option for 2024.

“I got tendered, so I knew they wanted me on the team,” he said. “It just came down to finding the right number for both sides, and I’m glad that both sides could come to an agreement and we didn’t have to go to a hearing. I’ve never been to one, but I just wanted to make sure I got what I was worth, and I feel like I did that.”

Being unsure how the Orioles will use him isn’t unsettling or a crisis. It feels familiar to Voth from his past experiences. Roll with the punches and try to stay on your feet.

“I’ve been through this with the Nationals, so coming into camp, you try to make the team as a starter, and I feel like I can do that,” he said. “But the other option would be the bullpen as a long guy because that’s another role that I’ve done before, so they have multiple options for me, but my goal is to make it as a starter.”

* The Orioles signed 25-year-old infielder Gilbert Lara to a minor league deal. He doesn’t receive an invitation to spring training, leaving the camp roster at 71 players.

Lara spent the past four years in the Nationals organization. He’s a career .235/.275/.338 hitter in seven minor league seasons, beginning in 2015 in the Brewers’ system.

Milwaukee signed Lara out of the Dominican Republic to a $3.2 million bonus in July 2014, the largest in club history, when international free agency opened. He was 16 years old but stood 6-foot-3 and weighed 180 pounds. ranked Lara as the fourth-best available player in the international class.

The Orioles assigned Lara to Double-A Bowie. He played at the same level in 2022 with Harrisburg and batted .217/.272/.321 in 88 games.

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