Orioles confident in Wells as closer

The chiseling of the Orioles’ 40-man roster needs to get it down to a size that can accommodate at least one new player from the Rule 5 draft.

The Orioles seem to have struck gold last winter with reliever Tyler Wells.

You just never know.

Wells-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgAmong the few safe projections for the 2022 season is naming Wells the closer. He gets the initial save chances.

How many are available on a rebuilding team isn’t the point. Someone needs to protect a slim lead in the ninth inning and Wells has become the obvious choice.

The pitcher who missed two full seasons and hadn’t thrown a ball above Double-A.

The pitcher who might have been the least obvious in spring training.

You just never know. And that’s why it’s worth the Rule 5 investment, whether to find an innings-consuming reliever like T.J. McFarland, a power-hitting first baseman like Jay Gibbons, a versatile infielder like Ryan Flaherty or a promising young corner outfielder like Anthony Santander.

Joey Rickard was a speedy outfielder who played in 317 games. Shortstop Richie Martin remains in the organization and has appeared in 157 games, a total kept down by multiple injuries.

The Orioles could use a catcher, but they don’t usually select one in the Rule 5 draft.

Trivia question: Who is the last Rule 5 catcher chosen by the Orioles in the major league phase? Answer below.

Wells’ 4.11 ERA was the second-lowest among Orioles relievers, behind Cole Sulser’s 2.70, with a minimum of five appearances. He registered a 1.74 ERA in 25 outings between June 1 and Sept. 8, striking out 36 batters in 31 innings. He built a streak of 11 consecutive scoreless appearances.

A 5.42 strikeout/walk ratio led all rookie relievers and ranked seventh among bullpen arms in the American League. His 0.912 WHIP was the lowest among rookie relievers and fourth-lowest among all American League relievers.

Wells posted a 1.14 ERA in 19 games away from home and allowed only one earned run in 11 innings in nine road games against division opponents. He seemed immune to the pressure.

“Tyler Wells, for me that’s a huge bright spot,” manager Brandon Hyde said before the last home game. “A guy that our front office did an unbelievable job identifying, and for him to be a back-end reliever - not just on our team, he’d be a reliever on any team and be future impact - that’s a key acquisition, so we’re excited about Tyler.”

The only real disappointments were based on health, including the right shoulder inflammation that kept him from pitching after Sept. 24. He missed about three weeks earlier in the summer with right wrist tendinitis, but the Orioles wanted to control his innings and the break actually made it easier.

Wells won’t be saved for the ninth inning in every game that he’s available. That’s crazy talk. There are high-leverage situations that could kill a lead before it gets to Wells. But the Orioles need other relievers who can be trusted.

The bullpen is a targeted area of improvement, but the Orioles also require more consistency from arbitration-eligible left-handers Paul Fry and Tanner Scott.

They’ll take much of the same from Sulser, who posted a 2.05 ERA in 30 games after the All-Star break.

Answer: The most recent Rule 5 catcher was Lou Palmisano in 2008. He immediately was traded to the Astros for cash considerations and never reached the majors.

The Orioles selected Elrod Hendricks from the Angels in 1967 and he worked out much better.

* Yusniel Diaz, serving yesterday as the Mesa Solar Sox’s designated hitter in the Arizona Fall League, went 1-for-3 with a run scored and two strikeouts before leaving the game for a pinch-hitter. Diaz experienced some discomfort in his left shoulder on a swing, but the Orioles are hoping he’s out for only a couple of days.

Diaz went on the minor league injured list in May with a strained right hip/quadriceps and was sidelined in July with turf toe.

Infielder Greg Cullen left Tuesday’s game with a sore leg, but he’s been cleared to resume playing.

Outfielder Kyle Stowers was shut down after three games with a minor injury to his lower back.

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