[Baltimore Sun] Orioles observations on Tyler Wells trying to stick in rotation, Ryan O’Hearn avoiding complacency and more vs. Braves

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NORTH PORT, Fla. — Tyler Wells didn’t know he was going to get an opportunity to crack the Orioles’ starting rotation until late in the offseason. He was preparing for one anyway.

The 29-year-old right-hander made his spring debut in Friday’s 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves, cruising through two innings with just one base runner allowed. Wells impressed as a starter in spurts last season but experienced some fatigue down the stretch, prompting the Orioles to move him to a bullpen role.

With Kyle Bradish (UCL sprain) and John Means (elbow discomfort) both expected to miss the start of the season with their respective injuries, Wells is a favorite to land one of the Orioles’ rotation spots to begin the season.

“I’ve always had the starter mindset and that’s what I trained this offseason, that’s what I trained my body for and, obviously, those are my friends and it sucks that they’re injured but, at the same time, I’m going to go out there and keep my mindset consistent,” Wells said after his outing Friday.

Wells treated his second-half struggles as a learning experience, ramping up his offseason regimen to better prepare for the grind of a 162-game season. He devised a disciplined weight training plan and set a stricter diet for himself.

“That was a big goal for me this offseason to just really make sure that I get in the best shape possible,” Wells said. “I want to be able to make 35 starts this year, and I want to be able to go out there and accumulate a lot of innings and be part of the staff and be reliable for the guys. I think for me, that’s just how I built my offseason to be like, and, so far so good, feeling really good, feeling really strong and just looking to carry that throughout the season.”

Thirty-five starts is a lofty goal, but it’s representative of the mindset Wells has heading into 2024. He recorded a 3.18 ERA with 103 strikeouts over his first 18 appearances (17 strikes) before running out of gas in mid-July. Those numbers extrapolated over a full season would’ve made him one of the Orioles’ most valuable starters.

Though he did have success out of the bullpen in September, Wells is determined to make it as a starter.

“It’s honestly one of the most important things to me right now,” Wells said. “For me, each year, I want to be someone who’s reliable. I want to be a reliable person. I want to be someone that my teammates can come to if they just need to talk. But I also want to be reliable for the organization. I want to be reliable for making every fifth-day start going out there and giving them a quality start each and every time. That’s always my goal.”

Ryan O’Hearn breaks out the lumber

After getting off to a 1-for-8 start to the spring, O’Hearn reached base twice against Braves right-hander Bryce Elder, including a two-run double into the right-center gap.

“Just trying to see him elevated,” O’Hearn said. “He’s got a good changeup and he threw a slider in the middle of the zone so it feels good to catch a barrel and drive some runs in but just trying to get my feet underneath me, get locked in and get my swing right. I feel like today was a good step in that direction.”

O’Hearn crushed right-handed pitching in 2023, slashing .297/.327/.475 with 12 home runs against them. It was a breakout season for O’Hearn, who was acquired in a cash trade with the Kansas City Royals the previous offseason and even designated for assignment by the Orioles before being called up in mid-April.

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He got off to a hot start and proved to be a valuable piece for Baltimore with everyday first baseman Ryan Mountcastle hitting the injured list twice throughout the season. While he’s been assured of a roster spot this season, he’s still trying to take the same approach he did last year when he was just trying to make the team.

“Trying to fight that,” O’Hearn said of feeling comfortable. “Trying to keep that sense of urgency but, yeah, I feel excited to know that I’m going to be on the team and have a role but definitely trying to keep that sense of urgency and go about my work in a way with good intent.”

Around the horn

• Manager Brandon Hyde said in his pregame news conference that infielders Gunnar Henderson (oblique) and Connor Norby (side) are both about three or four days away from making their Grapefruit League debuts. Henderson took live batting practice for the first time this spring at Ed Smith Stadium on Friday.

• One day after being scratched from the Orioles’ lineup with an illness, Mountcastle made the trip out to North Port and rejoined the starting lineup at DH. After striking out in his first at-bat, Mountcastle roped a line drive past the diving Austin Riley at third for an RBI single in the third.

• Following Wells out of the bullpen was Bruce Zimmermann. The left-hander put up two scoreless innings of his own with two hits allowed. Offseason core surgery forced him to wait a little bit longer than usual to start building up for the season, but he still expects to be ready for opening day. Zimmermann is on a starter’s build-up schedule.

Grapefruit League

Yankees at Orioles

Saturday, 1:05 p.m.

TV: MASN

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

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