Sometimes, a manager’s plans for a player become more evident through actions rather than words.
Brandon Hyde isn’t proclaiming that Rule 5 selection Tyler Wells is the Orioles’ unopposed and unchallenged closer. He doesn’t put that much emphasis on the role during a rebuild, though he understands how crushing it is to lose a lead in the ninth inning - like what happened in Anaheim after Cedric Mullins, named to the All-Star team earlier in the day, homered in the top half.
Wells has handled the ninth in his last four appearances, covering the eighth through 10th on July 11 against the White Sox. None of them have been save situations and only two have been scoreless, but most important is that Wells is the chosen one.
He warmed Monday night at Tropicana Field alongside Shaun Anderson, and the latter probably would have pitched if the Orioles expanded their 6-1 lead. They did not, and Hyde felt more comfortable with Wells.
Tanner Scott and Dillon Tate weren’t available, which contributed to Hyde staying with rookie starter Spenser Watkins through the sixth and 92 pitches. But it’s apparent that the trust Wells has earned is growing by leaps and bounds.
“Tyler’s going to pitch mostly one inning, maybe one-plus inning spurts,” Hyde said on his Zoom call. “I’m always looking for somebody to be able to pitch the ninth inning. That’s been a problem really the last few years, and I have confidence that Tyler’s going to throw strikes. He’s throwing 96 with a slider and changeup. I’ll take my chances.”
The question of whether the Orioles could carry Wells through an entire season has been replaced by speculation on his current and long-range roles. Is he a closer at his present stop and down the road, with no one else providing much opposition?
Again, it isn’t the most pressing issue on a team with the second-worst record in the majors and perhaps a few more years away from contention, assuming that it gets there. But César Valdez has been moved to less-stressful situations and Hyde isn’t sold on Cole Sulser or Paul Fry doing it consistently. They can be used in high-leverage moments, but without the closer designation.
Hunter Harvey is on the injured list again and the goal is just to get him back in the bullpen.
So why not Wells? Unless the Orioles are still tempted to check him out as a starter.
Two straight scoreless outings lowered his ERA to 3.92 and WHIP to 0.939. He allowed two runs in 14 1/3 innings last month. Among rookie relievers, his 55 strikeouts ranked first in the majors going into last night. He’s averaging 1.9 walks per nine innings.
A cautionary note is struck due to his Tommy John surgery in 2019, which prevented him from pitching again until joining the Orioles. He’s thrown 43 2/3 innings in his 29 appearances, the fourth-most among rookie relievers, and they aren’t going to just mindlessly pile on a bunch more.
Wells’ next save will be his first in the majors and second anywhere. He notched one with Double-A Chattanooga in 2018, his only relief appearance of the season and fourth out of 50 games in the minors.
This is just the latest example of a second player chosen by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft outlasting the first.
Pitcher Mac Sceroler was selected from the Reds organization with the fifth pick and Wells from the Twins with the 17th. Pitcher Pedro Araujo had a much longer tenure than pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr. in 2017, though he’s no longer in the organization. Outfielder Aneury Tavárez was returned to the Red Sox in 2016, but outfielder Anthony Santander, taken in the second round, made the leap from Single-A to the majors and last year was voted Most Valuable Oriole.
Chattanooga is the Reds’ Double-A affiliate again, no longer associated with the Twins, and that’s where you’ll find Sceroler after the Orioles returned him to the organization. He’s made four appearances, including a start, and allowed one run and five hits in 10 innings with four walks and 12 strikeouts.