Wells gets tighter grip on starter spot, Orioles offense erupts early and often (O's win 12-8)

SARASOTA, Fla. – Tyler Wells appears to be in first-half season form.

Wells was dealing again today against the Rays, allowing only a solo home run by Orioles tormentor Randy Arozarena over four innings. Coupled with his outing on March 1 in North Port, the right-hander has surrendered one run and three hits in six innings.

Nothing has happened to change the perception that Wells is a favorite to nab one of the open rotation spots.

“I think one thing that me and Frenchy (Drew French) talk about a lot is just execution,” Wells said, “and that’s one of my big things today is focus on the good, continue to execute and the results will take care of themselves.”

Wells retired the side in order in the first inning on eight pitches, seven for strikes. He walked Isaac Paredes leading off the second and got the next three outs on a fly ball, strikeout and grounder. René Pinto singled to lead off the third and was erased on a double play.

Arozarena launched the first pitch thrown to him for a long home run with one out in the fourth – only his second hit of the spring – and he admired it before relinquishing the bat and moving his feet. He’s belted 16 in 50 career regular season games against the Orioles. He knows the way.

Wells threw all nine pitches for strikes in the fourth, and 31 of 41 for the game. He allowed one run and two hits with a walk and strikeout.

The day wasn’t complete until Wells headed to the bullpen and threw 20 more pitches to raise his count.

“I’ll always take that – efficiency to me, being able to go deeper in games,” he said. “Later in the season it’s a lot nicer. Obviously in spring training, having to come and finish in the bullpen and stuff like that, it’s a little bit different, but to get that during season, that’s really always the goal, to be able to go out and get a lot of innings and take it off the bullpen’s arms.”

Wells was the staff’s best starter before the break, leading the league in WHIP, but was optioned to Double-A Bowie after three poor outings and came back in September as a reliever. The Orioles believe he ran out of gas. They also believe he’ll have much more in the tank in 2024.

“I feel like once you do it once, you can do it again,” Wells said. “It’s all about just kind of keeping a consistent mindset. It’s going to be the biggest thing for me this year is just being in tune with myself and in tune with my mind and body, and that’s what I worked really hard on this offseason, especially on the body aspect. I’m really hoping we get to a point this year where everything just lines up the way it’s supposed to.”

* Taj Bradley was the listed starter for the Rays and warmed in the bullpen, but he became a late scratch due to pectoral tightness and is scheduled for an MRI. Erasmo Ramírez took the ball in the first inning and took a beating.

Jordan Westburg hit a three-run homer to left field to cap a five-running inning. Westburg had one homer and two RBIs in his first nine games and struck out 11 times.

Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman opened with back-to-back singles and Ryan Mountcastle followed with a run-scoring double to left field. Ryan O’Hearn walked, and Rutschman scored on Austin Hays’ double play grounder.

Ramón Urías walked after hitting the dirt earlier in the at-bat to avoid an inside fastball. Westburg stepped to the plate and unloaded.

The Orioles were just getting warmed up.

Colton Cowser led off the second with a single and Henderson doubled for his ninth hit in 13 at-bats. Rutschman singled again to score Cowser, Henderson raced home on Mountcastle’s fielder’s choice grounder, O’Hearn singled and Austin Hays lifted a sacrifice fly deep center field for an 8-0 lead.

Fifteen batters came to the plate in two innings, and Westburg reached on an error leading off the third.

Urías homered in the fifth, his third of the spring. Westburg doubled and scored on Jorge Mateo’s single for a 10-1 lead.

Westburg no longer has to feel like he isn’t pulling his weight at the plate.

“He’s really a great player, really fundamental,” Henderson said. “You saw it out there today. He made some outstanding plays and it’s been really awesome being able to watch him and looking forward to playing with him out there.”

Cowser singled for his 11th hit in 23 at-bats, and Rutschman collected his third hit to give the Orioles an 11-1 lead.

“Watching the guys swing the bat and do really well never gets old,” Wells said. “Especially this time of year, I think it’s such a good confidence booster going into the year. I think that the beginning of the year is honestly one of the most important, if not the most important, ways to kind of get your momentum going for the rest of the year.

“Last year we started off pretty well and we just kept going.”

Henderson was held back in camp due to soreness in his left side, debuting on March 4, but he's swung a hot bat since his first game, proving again that spring training is too long for hitters and they don’t need this much time to get ready.

“I feel like I’m in the right spot, feel like I’m putting myself in the right position to put a good swing on the ball,” Henderson said.

“It doesn’t take many at-bats. It’s just getting your body used to game speed, and I feel like I’m in that right now.”

Daniel Johnson hit a solo homer in the seventh inning, his second of the spring, and the Orioles led 12-3. But he also committed an error in left field in the eighth that led to an RBI single by Willy Vasquez and an unearned run against Bryan Baker.

* Yennier Cano replaced Wells in the fifth and retired the three batters he faced, striking out Curtis Mead and Pinto. Cionel Pérez had a scoreless sixth but only after he loaded the bases and Westburg started a dazzling 4-6-3 double play.

Rob Brantly hit a two-run homer off Jacob Webb in the seventh. Webb allowed three hits and has a 7.20 ERA in five innings.

* The Rays scored four runs off Morgan McSweeney in the ninth, but the Orioles won 12-8 and improved to 15-3-1.

Wells was the pitching standout.

“I think he’s been throwing the ball great all spring,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “The command of all his pitches. He looked really sharp today. There’s that one homer. Besides that, I thought he worked ahead in the count and had all of his pitches going. It was great to see from him.”

Keeping Henderson and Rutschman back-to-back atop the order seems like a smart plan.

“It’s two really good players and two different type hitters,” Hyde said. “Guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, guys who can put the ball in play. Both are gonna be high on-base guys in their career. They’re exciting players. To have them someplace in the top half of your batting order, it’s a good feeling.”

The game drew an announced sellout crowd of 7,524.

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