The Orioles are hatching their plan for Tyler Wells, arranging a bullpen session for him in Baltimore and sending him out again for another minor league start. Maybe just one. Maybe two.
The reports came back from high Single-A Aberdeen that Wells looked and felt good Friday night, with no lingering issues related to his strained left oblique. He threw 31 pitches in 2 1/3 innings, the only run against him scoring after he left.
“He looked outstanding,” said Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado. “Commanded all of his pitches really well, put any pitch where he wanted. I know he talked about wanting to command the fastball on the outside part of the plate, and he’s dotting it right there on the black. Pitched really, really well. Retired the first seven guys and was in complete control the whole time.”
The Orioles had pitch counts in mind for Wells and Grayson Rodriguez, who started the previous night on his rehab assignment and also threw 31.
“We had to pull him there,” Mercado said of Wells. “Trust me, I’d love to keep him in. Similar to Grayson. I wish I had the chance to leave him in a little longer. He’s got electric stuff and it was great to see him back on the mound after being out since June.”
Rodriguez starts Tuesday night at Double-A Bowie. His next assignment is confirmed.
“The velocity was there,” Mercado said. “I think it was 97-98. Again, it was more important for him to just get on a baseball field and throw more than anything else. But he has electric stuff and I look forward to seeing him continue on his path to get to The Show.”
Mercado didn’t know where Wells would pitch next, but he loved having the right-hander mingling with his players.
“He’s been a stud, man,” Mercado said. “What a great human being. He comes in and he asked me, ‘Hey, if I get my work in and take care of stuff, I’ve got family, I’ve got my lady in town. I want to be a good teammate. If guys want to watch my bullpen or have any questions, I’ll be here and answer everything.’ Just a solid person. And it’s great to hear a guy who’s made it to that level still willing to give time to these younger guys to see what it takes.
“He’s been great. Great guy in the clubhouse and just a great person. He’s a great character. He’s got some funny stories. He definitely gives a good laugh to everybody here. He’s awesome. A great, great guy.”
Mercado didn’t get to manage infielder Gunnar Henderson, who began the season at Double-A Bowie and reached the majors Wednesday night in Cleveland. But a favorable impression was made back in spring training.
“Just the work ethic, the way he goes about every single day. Every rep is important in his mind, and it’s great to see him have continued success,” Mercado said.
“A guy like (Bowie fundamentals coach) Tim DeJohn, I know he’s really close to him and worked like crazy with him on the defensive side, and he was able to go to his first game. Just huge excitement for the organization. We have video reviews every day here at Aberdeen and we made sure we highlighted Adley (Rutschman) when he got called up and the success he’s had, and obviously the last couple days with Gunnar, we made sure the guys know, ‘Hey, this is the work you need to do, this the end result, that everybody wants to be playing at Camden.’ So, that’s great. It’s exciting for the organization. Guys are playing really well now.”
Mercado has no concerns about 2020 first-round draft pick Heston Kjerstad, who began last night batting .213/.304/.324 in 36 games with Aberdeen. Kjerstad was assigned to low Single-A Delmarva after recovering from a hamstring injury, his professional debut already delayed after his myocarditis diagnosis, and batted .463/.551/.650 in 22 games.
“Just keep getting more ABs and continue to get comfortable playing a full season,” Mercado said of Kjerstad, who went 1-for-4 last night with a double. “He’s been out for a while and he’s done a really good job here preparing himself during our early work and everything else. Everybody kind of hits the panic button. They think the guy is struggling here. Like (Colton) Cowser early on, there were some questions about him. Gunnar Henderson when he was here, I think he was 1-for-31.
“He’ll be fine. He’s working his tail off and getting better every single day, and he’s been a pleasure to have here.”
The IronBirds won the North Division first-half championship in Mercado’s first season as a professional manager. The Orioles hired him out of New Britain High School in Connecticut.
“It’s a testament to our staff,” Mercado said. “Our entire staff does a great job preparing guys, and guys are coming up from Delmarva prepared, and we just kind of continue that process. Make sure that we’re communicating and seeing where guys need to improve and continue that process until, hopefully, they get called up to go to Bowie.
“It’s been great. We’ve had continued success with a bunch of different guys coming in. It’s exciting for Aberdeen and the fans here, and obviously for the organization.”
Mercado discovered the thread that runs through the entire organization, connecting the lowest affiliates to the major league team. Distance isn’t an excuse for separation.
Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton, Bowie manager Kyle Moore and Delmarva manager Felipe Alou Jr. keep Mercado in the loop about players, or simply make themselves available for consultations, their experience in the minors a valuable asset.
“It’s my first year in professional baseball and I wasn’t sure how that dynamic would be, and honestly, it feels like a family,” he said.
“The communication amongst managers, if I have any questions, I call Buck, I call K-Mo. Anything that’s going on. A guy gets called up (to Aberdeen), Felipe gives me a call to say, ‘Hey, this is what this guy is working on.’ I think just the communication and making sure we’re all on the same page is extremely important.”
A recent visit to Camden Yards, a first for Mercado’s wife Samantha, led to a surprise exchange with Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. The kind that enforced everything he believed about the organization.
Mercado stood on the field and chatted with Rutschman and infielder Terrin Vavra, players who passed through Aberdeen on injury rehab assignments. What happened next provided one of the biggest highlights of his year.
“Brandon Hyde comes by and goes, ‘Hey man, you guys are killing it at Aberdeen. Keep it up,’” Mercado recalled. “So, it’s pretty cool to hear the manager and the staff at the major league level seeing the work we’re doing down here. It’s like, everybody’s in tune, everybody’s pulling the same way, and it’s a great thing that’s going on in Baltimore and the entire organization.”