Should Tyler Wells return to the Orioles' rotation or the bullpen?

Is Tyler Wells going to continue as a starter or return to the bullpen?
Mar 12, 2024; Sarasota, Florida, USA;  Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Tyler Wells (68) is
Mar 12, 2024; Sarasota, Florida, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Tyler Wells (68) is / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

After years of suffering through an arduous rebuilding process, the Baltimore Orioles are finally in a "win now" mode. They pulled the trigger on a trade that sent two highly touted prospects to Milwaukee and brought in Corbin Burnes, the ace pitcher that was supposed to put them over the top. Unfortunately, the rotation has not looked like the front office hoped.

An injury to Kyle Bradish and a setback in the recovery of John Means, who were potentially going to be the Orioles' second and third starters, forced the O's to fill out their rotation with other pitchers. Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin, who were both part of the rotation at the beginning of 2023, eagerly stepped in. Both Wells and Irvin eventually found themselves coming out of the bullpen last season, where they both had success. Irvin is still fighting to keep his spot in the rotation as Bradish and Means continue to rehab, while Wells, once again, has landed on the IL. No timetable has been announced for Wells' return yet. When he does return, should he slot into the rotation or the bullpen?

Will oft-injured Tyler Wells ever return to Orioles rotation?

This is already Wells' fifth trip to the IL in his short career, not including his 2023 demotion to Double-A Bowie due to arm fatigue, and four of the five times have been because of injuries to his pitching arm. Wells has been a good starter for the O's when he's been healthy. Last season, he was the team's best starter during the first half of the season and some thought he had a chance to make the All-Star team, but he was not able to continue at that pace. After a stint in the minors to build his strength back, Wells returned to Baltimore in a familiar role out of the bullpen.

Wells debuted in 2021 as a reliever, even though he had pitched almost exclusively as a starter in the minors. Even though he had never pitched above Double-A and didn't pitch at all during 2020 due to the effect Covid-19 had on the baseball season, Wells appeared in 44 games for the Orioles in 2021, finished 18 of those games, and earned four saves. Orioles fans got a taste of his potential and were excited for his future.

The Orioles gave Wells his first chance as a starter in the major leagues in 2022. Wells pitched well and made and started all 23 games that he appeared in for the Birds, finishing with a 7-7 record and a respectable 4.25 ERA. He did miss more than a month with a left oblique injury, which was his third trip to the IL after missing time in 2021 with right wrist and shoulder injuries. Even though Wells missed that time in 2022, he was able to pitch over 100 innings for just the second time in his professional career.

2023 was a tale of two seasons for Wells. His first appearance was technically out of the bullpen, when he entered a game in the first inning after Kyle Bradish left with an injury, but Wells was a dominant starter in the first half. After his game on July 8, 2023, a win against the Minnesota Twins, Wells was 7-4 with a 3.18 ERA and an 0.93 WHIP, but then the wheels fell off. He made three more starts in July, giving up 11 ER in 9.0 total innings, before being shut down.

When Wells was called back up to Baltimore, he went back to the bullpen, where he was dominant again. He made four appearances over the last two weeks of the season, pitching 5.0 nearly perfect innings. Wells gave up zero runs, zero hits and only walked one while striking out six opposing hitters. He even picked up a save after Felix Bautista went down.

Before this season started, there was a lot of discussion in the Orioles community about whether Wells would be a starter or reliever. Wells has made it clear that he wants to be a starter and said:

“I want to be able to make 35 starts this year. I want to be able to go out there and accumulate a lot of innings and be part of the staff and reliable for the guys. I think, for me, that's just kind of how I built my offseason to be like. So far so good. Feeling really good. Feeling really strong. I’m just looking to carry that throughout the season.”

I was very happy to see him get the opportunity to start again this season and I was hopeful that he would be able to build off the success he had as a starter in 2023. Unfortunately, it's looking like a career as a starter just isn't in the cards for Wells.

Wells clearly is capable of being a successful starter in spurts, but he could also be a dominant reliever, not to mention the Orioles will most likely look to keep his pitch count down in the second half. Wells is on the IL with his fourth injury to his pitching arm in the major leagues, and he has previously has Tommy John surgery in 2019 when he was in the minors.

Moving Wells to the bullpen will also fit the Orioles' needs. With the impending return of Bradish and Means, who should both be back in late April or May, the surprise success of Albert Suarez, and the incredible start that Cade Povich has had in Norfolk, the Orioles rotation will be fine without Wells. The bullpen could also use some help. Most of the pitchers have performed well, but the injury to Cionel Perez left an opening for a high-leverage reliever.

The Birds have turned to Mike Baumann late in games, and he's been hit or miss. Danny Coulombe and Keegan Akin have pitched very well, but they usually come in for high leverage situations earlier in the game. Dillon Tate and Jacob Webb have been reliable, but haven't been high leverage guys this season. The O's have been able to rely on Yennier Cano and Craig Kimbrel late in games, but they could use some assistance, especially since the team wants to keep Kimbrel's innings down. Bringing in a guy like Wells that can be used in high leverage early or to close will have enormous value for the Orioles.

Since Wells has already had a major surgery on his pitching arm in the minors, four trips to the IL due to arm injuries and issues with arm fatigue while throwing a relatively low number of innings, it would make sense for him to move to the bullpen. The move should significantly extend his career and possibly help him achieve even more success. Wells moving back to the bullpen makes sense from every angle, for both the Orioles and for Wells, even if it's a reality he's thus far struggled to accept.