As Orioles send down struggling Wells, all eyes on Elias ahead of trade deadline

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BALTIMORE — While other contenders were acquiring starting pitching ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, the AL-leading Orioles demoted their second-best starter for the season to the minor leagues.

Enduring an unsettling three-start stretch since the All-Star break that included 11 earned runs allowed and nine walks over nine innings, right-hander Tyler Wells was optioned to Double-A Bowie after Saturday’s 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees. The 28-year-old still ranks second in the Baltimore rotation in ERA (3.80) and wins above replacement (1.6) behind only Kyle Bradish this season, but it had become increasingly apparent that Wells wasn’t right, prompting the Orioles to send him to the minors for some rest and a reduced workload.

He lasted just 2 2/3 innings and sported his lowest average fastball velocity of the season on Saturday, which marked the second time in three starts he failed to complete three innings. Wells pitched at least five innings in each of his 18 appearances in the first half of the season and sported an impressive 3.18 ERA at the break. His 113 2/3 innings are already the most he’s logged in a season since completing 119 1/3 between High-A and Double-A in Minnesota’s system in 2018, the year before he underwent Tommy John surgery.

(Brandon Hyde discusses the decision to option Tyler Wells to Double-A Bowie on Sunday.)

“We feel like he needs a little bit of a break, honestly, a little bit of a reset,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “His stuff since the break — really since the Minnesota game [on July 8] — hasn’t looked the same. Just not the same life to his fastball; the command’s obviously not where it was. He had an All-Star first half and was league-leading in WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) because of the command and the lack of walks. His only issue a little bit was he gave up some solo homers once in a while.

“But really the last three or four starts, there have been some things in there that are uncharacteristic. We feel like the right thing for him and for us — because we need him back; we need him — is to give him a little bit of a break. Sending him to Double-A allows us to have him close, and then we’re going to kind of go from there. Hopefully, he’s back with us soon after giving him just a little bit of time off.”

Hyde said the plan is to give Wells some rest — reiterating that he “feels OK” despite the “eye test” creating concern — and a lighter workload pitching for the Baysox to keep “his feel” and position him to rejoin the Orioles sometime next month for the stretch run. Of course, what role Wells will hold remains to be seen with it becoming even more apparent that general manager Mike Elias needs to add at least one starting pitcher ahead of Tuesday’s 6 p.m. trade deadline. As a Rule 5 pick rookie in 2021, Wells impressed as a reliever, pitching to a 3.28 ERA after June 1 and even collecting four saves in September that season.

Baltimore is now without a scheduled starter for Thursday’s series finale in Toronto, and rumored target Jordan Montgomery was acquired by Texas on Sunday afternoon, the latest starting pitcher to come off the board over the weekend. Elias was predictably measured in discussing potential trades at Camden Yards on Friday, but the Orioles don’t have a logical in-house candidate to slot into the current rotation if the front office and ownership want to be taken seriously as doing the best they can to optimize a young club for a playoff run.


In other words, starting Cole Irvin against the Blue Jays and beyond isn’t going to cut it.

There’s also the fair question of how the Orioles will handle their other young starters down the stretch with Bradish, Dean Kremer, and Grayson Rodriguez all on pace to blow past their single-season highs in professional innings in the coming weeks.

“It’s challenging. I’m so proud of all these guys,” Hyde said. “Tyler’s in uncharted waters right now. He’s not had experience of pitching like a normal starter in a full season since the minor leagues years ago. All these guys are going to go through things for the first time honestly. That’s part of development, and it’s part why they’re going to be really good down the road too.

“We’re trying to win right now, and we’re going to try to win down the road. These guys have taken huge steps in their careers this year, so we’re going to monitor things and we’ll see what happens. We need all of them to go where we want to go.”

And these current Orioles need — and frankly, deserve — an impact addition or two to try to help them get there.

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