BALTIMORE—By many measurements, Tyler Wells has been the most effective Orioles’ starter this season. He has the lowest earned-run average, 3.24, the most strikeouts, 74, the fewest hits, 94, and the lowest WHIP, 0.853.
It’s only his second season as a starter, and he attributes his improvement to playing with veterans over the last two years — veteran starters Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, and experienced catchers Robinson Chirinos and James McCann.
“A lot of those guys provided good insight on how to use my pitches,” Wells said. “How to set guys up better, and just honestly because I’m able to throw any kind of pitch I want in any kind of count, I think helps a lot as well.”
Wells, who was a reliever as a Rule 5 draft choice in 2021, was converted to a starter last season, a year that was shortened by oblique and shoulder injuries.
Last season, Wells, 28, was 7-7 with a 4.25 ERA, and he averaged 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings. This year, Wells has averaged just under one strikeout per inning.
He allowed two runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings and struck out four in Friday night’s 3-2 win over the Royals, ending a streak of five straight starts with at least seven strikeouts, tied for the second longest in team history.
“Last year, I was so focused on trying to give some sort of length every time that I went out there that I didn’t really think about trying to strike guys out,” Wells said. “It’s kind of the same thing this year. I’m not really trying to strike guys out, but they’re coming. I think the big difference there is me executing pitches in two-strike counts.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said much of the difference is maturity.
“I think he just has grown a lot as a pitcher,” Hyde said. “Last year, there were a lot of firsts, a lot of adjusting to the big leagues in the rotation and also being cut short, not having been fully stretched out as a normal starter.
“His starts were fairly limited. Now he’s learning to pitch through his last 25, 30 pitches through an outing, which he didn’t have last year a lot. It was great [Friday] getting into the seventh inning, with two outs. If he got that third out quickly, I was going to send him back out there for the eighth and unfortunately that didn’t happen.
“He’s learning how to navigate lineups three times through, which he really didn’t have to do much last year and understanding how good his command is. [Friday], he didn’t have his real good fastball, but he had to command it. He had to use other things. You saw more curveballs yesterday, early in the count for strikes and he’s had a good slider this year.”
The other starters on the Orioles’ staff are more experienced this season, too.
“I’m just trying to be the best teammate I can be for any of those guys that need me, so I think that point of emphasis for me is being the best teammate I can,” Wells said. “Whenever I’m not starting and then when I am starting being the best version of myself that I can possibly be. That goes with just executing my pitches and that’s been a big help for me this year, and I think I’ve done that better than I have in the past.”
In Wells’ first season, 2021, the Orioles were 52-110, and last year they registered a 31-game improvement to 83-79. This year’s club might be even better.
“I thought that we were going to come in this year and take care of business, and we have,” Wells said. “I think our clubhouse environment is stronger than what I thought it could be. Everyone in here is unified. Everyone has a similar goal.
“I think that once we were getting to know each other in spring training, it was a learning curve and you don’t know how everyone is going to mesh together. As the season’s gone on, McCann, [Adam] Frazier, [Anthony] Santander, Gibby. Those veteran leaders have brought us together and showed us, ‘hey we’ve been on winning teams.’
“I just think you get the experience with those guys and they’ve unified us all. I think they’ve showed us, ‘this is what it takes to be a championship team. You guys have to be on the same page,’ and I think that’s a big difference.”
Wells has 74 strikeouts in 75 innings and he’s being closely followed by closer Félix Bautista, who has struck out an astounding 64 batters in 31 innings. Yennier Cano has struck out 34 in 35 innings. Bautista and Cano have provided huge support to the starting staff.
“It’s wild, but it’s such an awesome thing to see. Me and Bautista, he loves to mess with me, and I love to mess with him,” Wells said. “Cano’s such a great person. You love to see them succeed. You can tell how seriously they take their roles.
“I think that’s one of the best parts about it with Bautista. He was a rookie last year. Cano was technically a rookie. He comes in, they both come in, and they do their job. They take it very seriously. What they’ve been able to do this year, especially has been absolutely incredible, and they give the team a lot of confidence, especially in the back-end part of the bullpen.”