Wells, Zimmermann, Mountcastle, O'Hearn and Holliday with productive days in North Port (O's win 3-1)

NORTH PORT, Fla. – Tyler Wells didn’t know his set pitch count today before stepping on the mound for his first spring start. Two innings seemed to be one of the main goals, along with pounding the strike zone and getting out of it healthy.

The day was a success in both regards, with Wells tossing two scoreless innings against the Braves at CoolToday Park.

Wells faced the minimum number of batters after Luis Liberato, a late substitution for Ronald Acuña Jr., singled into center field. Jarred Kelenic grounded into a 3-6-3 double play and Austin Riley grounded out, and Wells coaxed three fly balls to right fielder Anthony Santander in the second.

The right-hander threw 23 pitches, 17 for strikes.

“I think that it’s a good way to start off spring training and kind of set pace for the year,” he said.

The ups are a better workout than the pitches thrown.

“I think I can probably speak for a lot of guys in this aspect, you tend to get more sore with more ups versus more pitches,” Wells said. “I think being able to get more ups, get hot, cool down, get hot, cool down, that’s usually the biggest adaptation that you have to get in spring training.”

Wells seems destined for the rotation with Kyle Bradish and John Means headed for the injured list. Otherwise, he would have worked in a relief role, whether for multiple innings or at the back end.

The team’s best starter in the first half, with the league’s lowest WHIP, faltered after the break and returned from the minors in September as a valuable bullpen arm. He wants to be a workhorse in 2024.

He’s looking the part physically, for sure. Teammates notice the change in Wells.

“That was a big goal for me this offseason, to just really make sure that I get in the best shape possible,” he said. “I want to be able to make 35 starts this year and I want to be able to go out there and accumulate a lot of innings and be part of this staff and be reliable for the guys. I think, for me, that’s just kind of how I built my offseason to be like, and so far, so good. Feeling really good, feeling really strong. Just looking to carry that throughout the season.

“For me, honestly, it’s discipline. That’s the hardest part because eating properly is a big one, and just showing up every day. That’s kind of the one thing for me is something that requires discipline, it’s something that, you’ve got to do things that you don’t always want to do. Whether that’s certain exercises, certain recoveries, certain times that you have to go in and lift because you’ve got to go and take a trip or whatever. It’s just the discipline of that is something that I practice a lot, and that helps with my mindset of being able to go out and apply that discipline into a game.”

Wells prefers to start but hates that it comes at the expense of teammates who are injured (Bradish) or too far behind to break camp (Means).

“I’ve always kind of had the starter mindset, and that’s what I trained this offseason, what I trained my body for,” he said. “Obviously, those are my friends and it sucks that they’re injured, but at the same time, too, I’m going to go out there and keep my mindset consistent.”

And, he hopes, keep taking the ball as a member of the rotation.

“It’s, honestly, one of the most important things to me right now,” Wells said. “For me, each year I want to be someone who’s reliable. I want to be a reliable person, I want to be someone that my teammates can come to if they want to talk. But I also want to be reliable for the organization. I want to be reliable for making every fifth day start, going out there and giving them a quality start each and every time.

“That’s always my goal and I want to continue that. And a lot of it is trial and error to make sure that your body gets prepared for it. It’s really hard to figure out how to do it if you’ve never done it, and I want to do it. And I’m in the current process of figuring that out.”

Veteran pitchers have been available to Wells over the years – Corbin Burnes this spring, after Jordan Lyles in 2022 and Kyle Gibson in 2023.

“I’ve talked to some big-time workhorses as far as innings go,” Wells said. “It’s funny because each answer is different and I think that’s the impressive part about it. That’s why I say you’ve got to be able to figure out what works for you, but at the same time, too, each and every single one of those guys has something little that you can take out of that.”

* Baltimore native Bruce Zimmermann also made his spring debut today with two scoreless innings. The first two batters reached on singles in the third inning, but the next five were retired on a 6-3 double play, fly ball to left, fly ball to right, pop up to first and pop up to third.

A nice result for a pitcher who underwent core muscle surgery in October and couldn’t train in the normal manner.

“Felt good,” Zimmermann said. “Spring training’s a little different because I had a lot less live reps before starting spring, so taking each (appearance) as it comes and really try to just build off each one. Obviously, results are really important, but with the limited amount of reps I was able to do because of the rehab and everything, I’m pretty happy with how this one went.”

The weight-lifting part of Zimmermann’s workouts didn’t begin until December. He didn’t get into the meat of throwing until late December or early January.

“Basically, I was just a month behind where I’d normally be, starting-wise, of progressing, throwing-wise, stuff like that,” he said.

Zimmermann’s chances of breaking camp with the Orioles improved with Bradish and Means subtracted from the staff. He’s competing as a starter but also could be a long reliever.

“You never want to see a teammate go down or whatever, but the name of this game is stepping up,” said Zimmermann, who has a minor league option remaining. “(manager Brandon Hyde) always says you need 30 guys, 35 guys, to win a championship. If I can be one of those guys earlier than expected and break with the team and make an impact right away, I definitely want to do it – for my own career and for the team. Definitely looking forward to the opportunity that’s presented itself this spring.”

* Ryan Mountcastle walked at a deliberate pace through the Orioles clubhouse this morning, a bottle of Gatorade in his hand. A look on his face that said the illness that forced him out of yesterday’s lineup hadn’t completely left his body.

Mountcastle shared that he felt a little better, good enough to drive to North Port and serve as designated hitter. He took batting practice, stayed in the lineup and lined a run-scoring single into left field off Bryce Elder in the third inning for a 1-0 lead – and his first hit in seven at-bats.

A strikeout to end the first inning was followed by a scorched ball that eluded diving third baseman Austin Riley.

Ryan O’Hearn followed with a two-run double to center field, moving him halfway to the cycle after his leadoff single in the second. He also started and finished the double play while Wells was pitching.

“Just trying to see (Elder) elevated,” O’Hearn said. “He’s got a good changeup and he threw a slider in the middle of the zone, so it feels good to catch a barrel and drive some runs in. But just trying to get my feet underneath me, get locked in and get my swing right. I feel like today was a good step in that direction.”

* Jackson Holliday started at shortstop today after extensive work at second base and went 1-for-3 with two fly balls sandwiched around a double to center field in the fourth. He made a backhand stop of David Fletcher’s grounder in the third, tried to plant quickly and threw wide of the bag for an infield single.

That was the last issue.

Besides the 3-6-3 double play in the first inning, Holliday fielded a ground ball in the third, stepped on second base and fired to first to bail out Zimmermann, and he started a 6-4-3 double play to end the fifth after Kaleb Ort began the inning by allowing a single and walking the next batter.

* Matt Krook allowed a run in the sixth, reducing the lead to 4-1, on a single, walk, ground ball and force play.

Left-hander Andrew Suárez registered two scoreless innings in Monday’s split-squad game in North Port and two more today. A leadoff walk in the seventh didn’t hurt him. A leadoff walk in the eighth was followed by a line drive single to left field, a strikeout and a double play.

* Nolan Hoffman earned another save in the Orioles’ 3-1 win over the Braves.

Hyde was “very happy” with Wells’ outing.

“I thought he threw the ball outstanding,” Hyde said. “Good changeups, throwing a ton of strikes. A Tyler Wells outing for me. All pitches for strikes and great tempo. Very, very solid two innings.

“Zimm did a nice job. Got in a little bit of trouble there but I think we turned five double plays. Zimm pitched to contact. I thought he had really good stuff. That’s a tough lineup there, very tough, and I thought he made good pitches.”

Wells’ conditioning could lead to more innings and no more minor league resets.

“I think he kind of knows now, another year of experience and another year of learning how to kind of get ready for a major league season,” Hyde said. “I think he did a great job taking care of his body and getting it ready for the season.”

The Orioles are 7-1, which is meaningless in spring training. But Hyde can pick out the positives.

“We’re playing really well defensively early in camp, which is nice to see,” he said. (The record) really doesn’t mean anything right now but we’re playing pretty good baseball.”

The five double plays would tie the club record in the regular season.

O’Hearn is just getting ready for the season. His spot on the roster is secured.

“He’s a huge piece,” Hyde said. “He’s a middle-of-the-order bat for us. He had a great season last year. A huge contributor for us. We’re looking for him to do that again.”


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