CLEVELAND – Tyler Wells watched the Orioles’ playoff-clinching celebration from a distance. From the roster at Triple-A Norfolk. More enjoyment than envy.
He has a chance to be in the middle of Part 2 if the Orioles win the division for the first time since 2014.
The magic number is seven, and Wells is in the bullpen after the Orioles recalled him this afternoon.
“It feels great,” he said. “Missed the guys a lot. Excited to come back and contribute. I’m just really focused on enjoying my time with the guys, and then once it gets between the lines, take care of business.”
“Great to see him,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He’s all smiles, he’s happy to be here, he’s talking. I know we’re excited to have him back and he’s a big part of our club.”
The Orioles optioned Wells after three poor second-half starts. Wells started three games with Double-A Bowie and made seven relief appearances with Norfolk.
“I think it benefited me, working with a lot of those guys down there,” Wells said, without a trace of bitterness or disappointment. “The coaches down there have been great, and their attention to detail was awesome. It definitely benefited me, mentally, physically, everything.
“I think that they did what’s best for the team, and that’s always how you have to approach it.”
Wells said his stuff is “great,” even if the numbers don’t support it.
“Everything’s been feeling really good,” he said. “Physically, I feel great. Continuing to make sure that goes well and stay on top of it on catch play and my daily routines is important.”
“The last couple outings have been a little bit better,” Hyde said. “We’re hoping that he can help us in kind of that back half of the game. We’re looking for guys to get outs right now. It’s pretty fatigued in the bullpen, and hopefully he can give us a lift back in the back end.”
One question is whether Wells can go back-to-back if needed, whether the club is placing certain limitations on him as he makes another transition to relief.
“Like all these guys right now, for me it’s going to be talking to them the next day and seeing how they’re feeling,” Hyde said. “Can he finish an inning? Can he go more than one? So, right now we’re just talking every day to our bullpen guys to kind of navigate through this last stretch.”
Wells was a Rule 5 reliever in 2021 who became the closer, but he was told over the winter that he’d come to camp as a starter. Two injuries in the second half cut short his season, and he lost effectiveness and command this year after the break.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Wells said of his bullpen work. “To me, just pitching in a game is always exhilarating, and coming into those high-leverage roles again is always enjoyable.”
Asked about his daily routine in the minors, Wells said, “It was just more preparation, getting ready for the bullpen.
“We had a good conversation about that, so the transition there just kind of was a daily focus on good catch play and translating that.”
On the mental side, Wells said he handled it as best that he could.
“Just making sure that I focus on the things that I needed to focus on a daily basis, communicating with coaches,” he said. “And I think we executed that plan pretty well.”
There wasn’t a shutdown period for Wells.
“I didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “I went down there and immediately got to work.”
Perhaps the time spent in the minors and what Wells took out of it can benefit him down the road. Use it to his advantage. Rather than break him, it made him stronger.
“I think it’s always just about perspective, how you continue to handle different situations,” he said. “Kind of given the situation we’re in right now, where we’re chasing our division title, is one of those things where you continue to just kind of focus on that. You focus on the task at hand. You approach it and you execute that plan. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
Wells’ situation could change again, with the club viewing him as a starter.
“I think it’s open-ended, but also, the body of work he had in that first half, for me he might have been our best starter in the first half. League leader in WHIP for the first two-plus months of the season,” said Hyde, who’s managing his 700th game with the Orioles tonight.
“He showed that he can start in this league and have a lot of success. He just ran out of gas. It’s easy to see why. He wasn’t built up to be a sixth-month starter, and so, and we felt like it was the right thing to do at that time was to shut him down a little bit, put him in the bullpen. Now he’s in the bullpen and get him ready. I would assume that he’d probably start next year.”
The Orioles lost 110 games in 2021. Wells returns tonight while they hold the best record in the American League and keep pushing for home-field advantage in the Division Series and beyond.
“Extremely rewarding,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of guys who have gone through that years prior to that, too, and to be a part of that and then to kind of see where we’re at now is extremely gratifying. And I’m thankful to be a part of it.
“I don’t think I missed a beat on watching the guys and it’s been a lot of fun. Those guys have continued to really battle, especially in this long stretch, so extremely impressed and happy, and definitely a gritty team.”
Wells joined other teammates who spent time in Baltimore sifting through the videos and photos from Sunday’s raucous celebration. He didn’t feel or taste the ice-cold champagne, but the Orioles didn’t exclude them. Phone calls were made expressing gratitude. How they weren’t forgotten or overlooked.
“We were involved in it one way or another,” Wells said. “A few of us guys got together and enjoyed it and watched them. I definitely talked to a lot of the guys up here.”
The Orioles have optioned five relievers, including Mike Baumann today, who can’t return right away due to the 15-day minimum for staying down. Joey Krehbiel, Cole Irvin, Nick Vespi and Bryan Baker could return before the last regular season game.
“That’s just part of it right now,” Hyde said. “Just the games that we’ve played. The schedule-maker wasn’t real kind when it came to the offenses you're facing: against Tampa, at Houston. That took a lot out of our guys, and that’s part of the game and that’s part of this grind. Sometimes, you’ve got to reshuffle the bullpen a little bit and bring guys that can cover for you.”
Closer Félix Bautista threw another bullpen session today. Ryan Mountcastle, on the injured list with left AC joint inflammation, did some running on the field.
The Orioles are starting John Means and Kyle Gibson in the last two games of the series, and the Guardians are starting Cal Quantrill and Triston McKenzie.