With rookie Dean Kremer turning in one of the worst starts in franchise history to continue an unthinkable 20-game road losing streak on Thursday, the Orioles have once again fired up the Norfolk pitching shuttle for reinforcements.
Prior to Friday’s tilt with Toronto in Buffalo, Baltimore optioned Kremer to Triple-A Norfolk and recalled left-handed pitcher Alexander Wells from the Tides. The Orioles also selected the contract of right-hander Konner Wade and designated knuckleball pitcher Mickey Jannis for assignment, giving them an additional fresh arm after the bullpen was forced to cover 7 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Currently ranked as the Orioles’ No. 17 prospect by MLB.com, the 24-year-old Wells will be making his major league debut and is an Australian native who was signed as an international free agent in 2015. Though not a hard thrower, the lefty has impeccable command, was named the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2017, and took part in the 2018 Futures Game. One of many minor-league players to have 2020 derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wells has pitched to a 5.63 ERA in 32 innings for Norfolk this season, but he’s been much better of late with a 2.45 ERA in 18 1/3 innings in June and has walked just four batters all year. Wells was slowed by an oblique injury in spring training, which delayed his preparations for the season.
Featuring an above-average changeup and a solid curveball, Wells owns a 3.00 ERA and has averaged 7.0 strikeouts and 1.4 walks per nine innings in his minor league career spanning 507 innings. He will become the third Australian-born individual to play for the Orioles after pitchers John Stephens in 2002 and Damian Moss in 2003.
Wade, 29, will also be making his major league debut and had a 3.48 ERA in 31 innings for the Tides this season. He was a seventh-round pick of Colorado in 2013 and owns a 3.83 ERA in 693 career innings in the minors.
The 33-year-old Jannis made his major league debut earlier this week, surrendering seven earned runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings on Wednesday.
This latest demotion to Norfolk continues a very disappointing season for the rookie Kremer, who surrendered six runs and five walks and retired only one batter in Thursday’s 9-0 loss. One of the notable pieces acquired in the Manny Machado trade three years ago, the 25-year-old Kremer has pitched to a 7.25 ERA in 49 2/3 innings this season.
Entering Friday ranking last in the majors in ERA, Orioles pitching was always likely to struggle in 2021, a reality that hasn’t been helped by June injuries to ace John Means and rookie lefty Bruce Zimmermann, who has been Baltimore’s second-best starter with a 4.83 ERA. However, it’s fair to question why Kremer and fellow rookie Keegan Akin — sporting a 6.42 ERA in 33 2/3 innings — haven’t been able to offer more competitive outings as two former top 10 prospects in the Orioles system with ample experience in the minors. While a sub-5.00 ERA and more consistently completing five or six innings wouldn’t exactly signal them as future starters for a contending club, Kremer and Akin have combined to complete fewer than five innings in 10 of their 17 combined starts, putting too much strain on the bullpen.
In other roster news, catcher and former top 100 prospect Chance Sisco was claimed off waivers by the New York Mets on Friday. The Orioles designated Sisco for assignment last week.