BOWIE—A difficult start to the Bowie Baysox’s season is long in the past. Bowie, the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate, lost 17 of its first 21 games. On June 1, the Baysox fell a season-low 16 games below .500 at 19-35.
Since then, the Baysox have won 30 of their last 38 games, finishing the first half of the season with a 30-38 record. They’ve begun the second half 19-5 after Monday night’s 4-2 win over Harrisburg, the Washington Nationals’ Double-A team.
Bowie’s first-year manager, Buck Britton, the older brother of longtime Orioles reliever Zack Britton, just returned from paternity leave. Combining fatherhood with the success of his team makes the 33-year-old even happier.
“At the beginning of the year, we had some inexperience at this level,” Britton said.
At 33, Britton is three years removed from playing and in his second year as a minor league manager. Last year, he was Low-A Delmarva’s manager and jumped two levels to succeed longtime Bowie manager Gary Kendall, who moved up to Triple-A Norfolk.
“As far as the minor leagues go, this is a big jump from A ball to Double-A,” Britton said. “Guys got off to slow starts that hadn’t played at this level, and maybe their confidence was down. They didn’t know if they could be here.”
Britton credits longtime minor league manager Keith Bodie, who is the Baysox’s hitting coach and general sounding board for the manager.
“Bodie’s been working hard in the cage with these guys, and they’re buying into it,” Britton said.
“Our starting pitching has been phenomenal all year long,” Britton said. “But the offense is finally starting to click.”
Alex Wells, who equaled his longest professional start on Monday, allowed two runs on four hits in eight innings, striking out four without a walk. His record is 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA.
At 22, Wells is two levels away from the major leagues, and he’s starting to think it’s a realistic goal.
“Absolutely, knowing how close I am to potentially pitching in Camden Yards one day is very exciting,” Wells said. “It makes me work harder … hopefully, one day.”
Wells was the Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2017 after a standout year at Delmarva, when he struck out 113 batters and walked 10.
The left-hander doesn’t throw hard, topping out at 89-90 mph, and has an excellent curveball. He’s working on a slider and changeup.
“He knows how to pitch, and he’s fearless on the mound,” Britton said.
The Australian native has never been a top prospect because he doesn’t throw hard.
“He’s a guy that’s going to have to prove it at every level,” Britton said. “Look at the numbers he’s putting up here this year, It’s impressive.”
One of the catchers Wells throws to is Carlos Perez, who has substantial major league experience, and that helps, too.
“Knowing that you have a couple of teammates that have played there; they’ve all shared their experiences up there,” Wells said. “Knowing [you’re] a phone call away and only 40 minutes away, it’s very exciting.”
Bowie’s starting staff includes two other left-handers: Zac Lowther, one of the Orioles’ top prospects, who’s 10-5 with a 2.54 ERA; and Bruce Zimmermann, who’s from Ellicott City and went to Loyola Blakefield High School.
Zimmermann, who’s 4-2 with a 2.69 ERA ,was part of the package the Orioles received in the trade that sent Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to Atlanta last July 31.
Mike Baumann, who was recently promoted from High-A Frederick, makes his fifth start on Tuesday. In his first four, the right-hander allowed just one run in 18 innings for an 0.50 ERA. Baumann, a third-round draft choice in 2017, was a college teammate of Norfolk’s Austin Hays at Jacksonville University.
Dean Kremer, who was obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade, is 5-4 with a 3.76 ERA.
Dillon Tate, who came to the Orioles from the New York Yankees in the deal for Zack Britton, has been moved to the bullpen and has converted all five of his save chances since then.
Infielder Mason McCoy, who hit .379 in 27 games with Frederick, is hitting .310 in 59 games with the Baysox.
Bowie also has Yusniel Diaz, who was the most prominent player the Orioles received from the Dodgers in the Machado trade. He has improved in the outfield.
Diaz hit .239 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 38 games with the Baysox a year ago. After missing time this season with a hamstring injury, Diaz is hitting .258 with nine homers and 40 RBIs.
“He was trying to do way too much,” Britton said. “Being the focal point of the Manny Machado trade, that’s not easy. He’s starting to relax a little bit. Things are starting to click for him.
“A guy who’s got the talent that he has, when he gets a little bit of confidence, when he gets a little bit of that swagger going, look out because he can really take off.”
Their centerfielder is Cedric Mullins, who was 6-for-64 (.094) with the Orioles and was recently demoted from Norfolk to Bowie after he hit .205 in 66 games for the Tides.
“It can continue to snowball for you if you’re not careful,” Britton said. “I’m glad he’s here, and I hope that we can have an environment here that let’s him go out there and be Cedric Mullins again.
“You step into center field at Camden Yards, where Adam Jones has been … that’s a tough spot to go into. Maybe he tried to do a little more than what he could do. He’s got some ability, and hopefully he can get a little bit of a breather down here and get him going and get him back up there.”