I received lots of negative comments via social media Wednesday night about Orioles right-hander Mike Wright as he struggled through 2 2/3 disastrous innings (yielding four homers and six runs).
Obviously, this has not been a good stretch for the 26-year-old right-hander. He’s had just one quality start in his last five attempts. In that period, he’s allowed 18 earned runs in 24 2/3 innings (6.57 ERA).
But let’s not confuse poor results with lack of talent. Wright has one of the best arms in the organization. He was routinely hitting 95 mph with his fastball again Wednesday night and has an above-average sinker when he consistently locates it.
He works hard and deserved his shot, but the more evidence we see, the more I believe Wright is better suited as a reliever, where he can unload that four-seamer and two-seamer for an inning or two and throw little else.
Yes, he only has 18 starts in the majors and is just 26, and so maybe he needs more time in the rotation before jettisoning him to relief, since good starters are more valuable than good relievers. But I’m not sure the Orioles have the luxury of waiting, not with Ubaldo Jimenez also struggling. Having two, hold-your-breath spots in the rotation is not a recipe for a contender.
“You do reach a point where we have to pitch better because you’ve got to learn from things and show that you’re getting better,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Wright. “Right now, it’s one step forward and two steps back.”
Wright knows he needs to perform better. He intimated as much Wednesday night.
“It was difficult, but I’m in the big leagues, trying to cherish it,” Wright said, “Trying to stay positive and, like I said, start making pitches.”
Wright might already be out of the rotation if the Orioles thought there was a replacement that would be consistently better pitching at Triple-A Norfolk. Wright’s season ERA sits at 5.88 in nine starts – actually a little lower than Ubaldo Jimenez’s, which is 6.36 heading into Thursday night.
Several of my Twitter followers lumped Wright and Jimenez together when complaining about the club’s rotation.
But there are several, obvious differences: Age (26 to 32), experience (parts of two seasons to parts of 11), and financial ($510,500 in 2016 to $13 million).
The other big one is service-time/contractual stipulations. The Orioles really don’t have much choice with Jimenez but to pitch him and hope he figures out his mechanics as he has in the past. Jimenez can’t be sent to the minors without his permission and the Orioles would have to eat roughly $22 million through next year to cut him. And Jimenez’s wildness makes him a bad candidate for the bullpen.
Jimenez may force the Orioles’ hand with continued struggles – he starts again Thursday against a fierce Boston lineup — but for now the Orioles are going to keep starting him and keep hoping for a turnaround.
Wright’s a completely different story. He could be sent to the minors without passing through waivers and then he could keep starting at Triple-A Norfolk. This organization – most organizations, really – needs starters. And, again, Wright is only 26.
But that’s not what I would do. I’d send him to Norfolk and put him in the bullpen. I’d move Vance Worley or T.J. McFarland to the rotation until Yovani Gallardo is ready to come off the DL (or, I suppose, if Jimenez keeps faltering when Gallardo is ready).
And I’d let Wright take out all of his frustrations one inning at a time in Triple-A. And if he pitches the way he is capable, throwing gas and strikes, then I’d bring him to the big-league bullpen when there is an opportunity. If it doesn’t work, you can always move him back into the Tides’ rotation.
Wright has been better than Jimenez, but that’s not the argument here. You have to do what’s best for the team and what’s best for Wright. Getting him prepared to be a hard-throwing reliever giving it his all one inning at a time is a path worth trying.
Because there is no lack of talent here. It just needs to be harnessed – as soon as possible.