Wells impresses again and late Orioles lead is secured to avoid sweep (updated)

MINNEAPOLIS – Tyler Wells has turned from experimental starter to staff ace.

There’s no disputing it. He’s reached that status. The proof is in the output.

Wells didn’t allow a baserunner in Seattle until Cal Raleigh homered with two outs in the fifth inning. He didn’t surrender a hit today until Nick Gordon doubled with one out in the fifth.

Given more room to operate in Minnesota, Wells held the Twins to one run in six innings and 90 pitches. The Orioles supported him with three home runs in the first six innings and avoided the sweep with a 3-1 victory.

The Orioles ended their four-game losing streak and a 12-game streak at Target Field, and they finished 5-5 on the road trip.

Neither team scored until Rougned Odor led off the fifth inning with a home run off left-hander Devin Smeltzer, working the at-bat for nine pitches and launching an 89 mph fastball 408 feet into the right-center field seats.

Two of Odor’s eight home runs have come against southpaws.

Trey Mancini, with his sore right hand and elbow, and Ryan Mountcastle hit back-to-back homers on consecutive pitches to begin the sixth and increase the lead to 3-0. The Orioles have done it eight times this season, and Mountcastle’s been involved in five.

Mancini’s ball landed in the second deck in left field.

"What did we score, three runs in every game here?" Mountcastle said. "We're capable of more, but our pitching staff definitely keeps us in those games, too."

Mountcastle can't explain why he keeps getting attached to back-to-back homers.

"I don't know where I've been at in most of them, whether I was the first or second one," he said, laughing. "It's the luck of the draw."

The Twins interrupted the shutout bid with two outs in the sixth on Jorge Polanco’s single. Gilberto Celestino led off by drawing Wells’ only walk, Luis Arraez singled and Carlos Correa shattered his bat on a double play grounder.

Wells allowed only three hits and struck out a career-high seven batters. He’s surrendered three runs in his last four starts covering 22 innings to lower his ERA to 3.09.

"It's really impressive how he moves his fastball around. The curveball and the slider and the changeup," said manager Brandon Hyde. "The poise on the mound, it's been great to watch, and watch a young player develop up here. And that's pitching against a first-place club, and ultra-competitive. He has been outstanding."

"He looks great," Mountcastle said. "Just seems like we're running out there on the field for a couple minutes and then just running back every time. I love that."

"Honestly, it's kind of a consistent mentality for me," Wells said. "In 2018 I kind of developed this mentality of just being consistent. I want to go out there and six innings every time, quality start. That's my goal every single time I go out there. It took me a little while to get back in that groove and that mentality, but over the course of the last two months, I've really started to get back into it and I'm feeling pretty good about it."

The 14 swings and misses were two more than his career high.

He may also be resembling the team’s All-Star representative.

"I know he's been pitching great, pounding the zone and attacking guys, which is huge," Mountcastle said. "A day game like today, it wasn't super-hot out, but when it is and you go three up, three down, it helps out a lot, especially the offense. For him to do that today was huge for us."

Wells threw 20 pitches in the first inning, with extras needed after Odor mishandled Polonco’s grounder with two outs. Wells responded by striking out Jose Miranda.

Five of the first eight Twins struck out - on a slider, curveball, 94.7 mph fastball, slider and 94.3 mph fastball. Polanco made it six of 12 in the fourth after he chased a slider, and Max Kepler did the same leading off the fifth to make it seven of 14 before Gordon doubled to right on a changeup.

"He knows he's going to go for a while, so the fastball velocity isn't as high as a one-inning stint, but it still sits," Hyde said. "That last inning he was still in the 94-95. But he's got multiple pitches to go to, and he's got confidence in all four. It's really unpredictable, tough on the hitter. And he's got such good fastball command that he's able to pitch at the top of the zone or the bottom of the zone, and works ahead. He's doing everything right now."

Wells was a Rule 5 pick from the Twins organization who became the closer in 2021. Jorge López made 25 starts. They’ve basically swapped roles, with outstanding results beyond López’s two blown saves in the series.

“I had no idea what this was going to look like,” Hyde said earlier today.

Wells was the Orioles' second Rule 5 selection after pitcher Mac Sceroler, who returned to the Reds.

"It's amazing, unbelievable," Hyde said. "And he didn't pitch two years prior to that. What he did last year was unbelievable, and now what he's doing this year is even more so. We're all excited about him."

This wasn't Wells' first appearance against the Twins, but he finally got a start at Target Field. He still has a lot of friends on the other side, including Arraez and Alex Kirilloff. They stay in contact and the feelings remain strong.

"I guess the best way to put it is it's cool, because this is where I thought I would be, and obviously I'm not," he said.

"To be able to go out there and be able to compete against them is always fun. It's one of those things where it's part of the business. There are things 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."

The offense had to shoulder some of the blame for Saturday’s walk-off loss, scoring three runs off Sonny Gray in the first four innings and shutting down. Only one hit over the last four innings against the bullpen while the Twins began to chip away at the lead.

Mancini reached today with one out in the first inning when Celestino dropped his line drive in center field, and Mountcastle followed with a double down the left field line.

Two shots to score against Smeltzer and the Orioles got nothing. Anthony Santander popped up to catcher Gary Sánchez and Adley Rutschman grounded out.

The bottom of the first inning was delayed while Hyde met with two umpires to discuss Smeltzer’s approach against Rutschman. Smeltzer appeared to switch from the stretch to the windup, which can’t be done within the same at-bat.  

Rutschman also grounded out, lined out and struck out. He’s 0-for-18 since homering in Seattle.

Celestino ran down Austin Hays’ drive to the warning track in right-center field in the third, and he threw out Santander at the plate to end the fourth after Tyler Nevin singled.

Smeltzer allowed one run in his two previous starts over 12 innings.

Richie Martin walked with one out in the fifth and was picked off. Gordon made a lunging catch in left to rob Hays.

The tack-on runs arrived in the sixth, but would they be sufficient with Wells on a limited pitch count and the bullpen down a couple of relievers?

The Orioles' rotation has posted a 1.46 ERA over the past 13 games. The issue lately has been what happens after the starter leaves.

Joey Krehbiel stranded two of Keegan Akin’s runners in the seventh. Akin retired two batters, ending his streak of two-plus-inning relief outings at 19, a major league record.

Correa walked with one out in the eighth, but the Twins didn’t score. Dillon Tate earned his second save by retiring the side in order in the ninth with two strikeouts. And Wells had his seventh victory.

"That was huge," Mountcastle said, "getting us back on winning games and get that little monkey off our backs the last couple games."

Starters keep pushing each other. Wells has made the biggest advances.

"It's kind of been that way the entire year," he said. "(Jordan) Lyles has been a great role model for that. He talks about going deep into games, helping out the bullpen, and I think it really gets our focus away from just trying to strike out everybody or trying to avoid getting hit or giving up runs, stuff like that. It just really allows us to kind of stay consistently focused on what we need to do and to be a quality starter in the big leagues, and that's to be able to go out there and give your team a chance to win every time you take the ball.

"That's what I've been picking up from the guys the last two weeks, so hopefully it continues."

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