Tyler Wells’ first two pitches Thursday were balls. The third was launched over 400 feet.
A home run off Philadelphia’s Bryson Stott capped a poor start to Wells’ second start this spring for the Orioles, but he allowed just one hit the rest of it. His fastball speed picked up after the long ball, striking out Rhys Hoskins, Nick Castellanos and Alec Bohm in succession to end the first.
In all, five of Wells’ eight outs in Clearwater came by strikeout, and the home run was the only run he allowed.
“It pissed me off,” Wells said. “To me, I think that’s what happens whenever you’re down 2-0 to the first guy of the game and you throw him a cookie.
“I think that kind of helped me get into that aggressive mode really quickly. It is what it is, but I won’t let it happen again.”
That aggression, Wells said, was a focal point after he allowed three runs in two innings in his first spring outing. He mostly deployed his four-seam fastball in or above the zone or glove side, with five of the six whiffs he generated coming on pitches that would have been balls had the batter not swung. But he populated the zone with his slider, getting five called strikes with that offering.
Manager Brandon Hyde said the slider was reminiscent of the one Wells threw in 2021 as relevant in the bottom of the inning; the field was “in and out” last year.
Wells continued to adapt to the sport’s new court clock. Amid a long at-bat against Hoskins to end his outing, he went down with no runners on, which doesn’t stop the clock and resulted in an automatic ball when he reached the out. Wells was able to strike out Hoskins regardless, but his outing ended there when he reached his 55-pitch mark.
“I definitely think we came out with a little more aggression right out of the gate, something we talked about as a whole,” Wells said. “Just attacking guys, staying in the attacking zone, but still getting ahead of guys, being able to chase them down. Very happy with the result today. But still more work to do.”
Wells was the Orioles’ most consistent starter in the first half of last season before injuries limited him. With Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer pitching well in his absence, Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin joining Baltimore this offseason, and top prospect Grayson Rodriguez positioned to make his rotation debut, Wells will have to – and resumes its way in rotation. this spring, with the possibility that he might otherwise land in the bullpen.
Behind Wells, Rule 5 pick Andrew Politi allowed a pair of home runs, the first time he had been hit in four outings, and Bruce Zimmermann surrendered two runs in three innings. After giving up four home runs in his first two outings, Joey Krehbiel hit two in a clean inning that Hyde called the “centerpiece” of Baltimore’s 7-6 loss.
“I look a lot more aggressive, offensively,” Hyde said.
Kremer claims the table tennis title
Kremer stayed in camp a few days later than expected because, Hyde said, the Orioles wanted to throw in front of their coaching staff one more time before joining Israel’s World Baseball Classic team in Miami.
But the overtime also meant Kremer could be in the Orioles’ clubhouse Thursday morning for the finals of the team’s spring table tennis tournament. Kremer defeated first baseman Ryan O’Hearn in a decisive third game to take the title.
Teammates surrounded the table during the match, mesmerized by the action while rooting for both. After Kremer’s victory, they pressed him in a mock press conference.
“Oh, that means everything,” Kremer joked. “We worked so hard for this offseason. Ryan fought really well, I was a little nervous there in the second [game]but i made it.
“Now, I have a target on my back.”
Kremer joked that he “really made sure I got my hammer back” in the offseason, trying to address a weakness in his game. He said he was still struggling with it Thursday, but O’Hearn couldn’t say.
“Guy is obviously a talented table tennis player,” O’Hearn said. “He has a complete game, forehand, backhand. He is a competitor. I knew I would have to play maybe my best ping pong to get it and I’m glad I got one [game] from him. But I’ve heard throughout camp that he’s the undisputed No. 1.”
The third game, required after Kremer won the first but dropped the second, was almost halfway through, but a string of points from Kremer gave him the distance to complete a road to the championship that included victories over of Gunnar Henderson, Mark Kolozsvary and Jackson Holliday. Throughout the match, other bigwigs picked up chairs, talked trash, and cheered and groaned along with Kremer and O’Hearn. Several intra-squad competitions are underway, with a darts tournament and a basketball shooting contest to come in line with the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s what it’s all about, right?” O’Hearn said. “These guys are obviously a big family, and the ping pong tournaments and the dart tournaments and the free throws, things like that, are fun. I’ve always loved that aspect of spring training and anything to get the guys together, to get the competitive juices flowing, that kind of stuff is great.”
With the title in hand, Kremer could turn his attention to pursuing another.
“I’m going to Disneyland,” he joked before moving the classic verse to its true destination: “I’m going to Miami.”
The Orioles’ organizational hitting philosophy, as outfielder Jordan Westburg put it, is “swinging at good pitches and hitting the ball hard.” He and other top Baltimore prospects have exemplified it this spring.
Westburg’s 102.8 mph double off Phillies ace Aaron Nola to open the second inning was the team-leading fifth ball in play at 100 mph or harder in road games this spring; The Orioles’ spring training home, Ed Smith Stadium, does not feature public Statcast data. He added a sacrifice fly against Nola — saying he was “very pleased” with those two plate appearances — and a single off Philadelphia major leaguer Seranthony Dominguez.
“[Nola’s] top guy, and for me to get that experience from him was pretty cool,” Westburg said. “It was pretty special and it definitely helps my game a little bit, comparing me to what it’s going to be like up there.”
Pinch hitting for Franchy Cordero — who hit a 114.5 mph triple earlier in the game — outfielder Heston Kjerstad hit a 107.2 mph triple. Outfielder Coby Mayo hit a 111.5 mph double Tuesday in Fort Myers that Hyde described as “hard.”
“Just a reflection of how our practice days go, how our work days go and obviously the talent that this organization has,” Westburg said. “I think everybody takes pride in that, everybody tries to get out there and get a good pitch to hit and when they do, not miss.”
First round of cuts
Before Thursday’s exhibition, Hyde said the Orioles’ first round of cuts would happen before Monday. They came before 5 p.m
Mayo and César Prieto, another well-respected prospect, were the most prominent of the 12 Baltimore players reassigned to minor league training after Thursday’s game. They were joined by pitchers Wandisson Charles, Ofreidy Gómez, Morgan McSweeney, Kade Strowd, Cole Uvila, Chris Vallimont and Ryan Watson; outfielder Robert Neustrom; catcher Ramón Rodriguez; and first baseman Curtis Terry.
The moves leave the Orioles’ spring roster at 59 players, although four of them — Kremer, outfielders Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander and lefty Darwinzon Hernández — play in the WBC.
Mayo’s departure means nine of Baltimore’s top 10 prospects remain in big league camp, including 2022 first-round draft pick Jackson Holliday.