Challenges Pile Up For Orioles’ Starting Rotation As Bats Begin To Break Out

The Orioles’ pitching staff suffered a setback when John Means was shut down in mid-April because of forearm tightness. Tests later revealed he required season-ending Tommy John surgery.

The team soon suffered another challenge. On April 23, another starter, right-hander Chris Ellis, was forced to leave the game against the Los Angeles Angels with shoulder discomfort before recording an out.

It’s still too early to tell how long Ellis will be out, but the Orioles could be down two starting pitchers before the month of May.

“Early on, you kind of saw there were a lot of arm-side up misses,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Ellis. “Something didn’t seem right. [Pitching coach Chris Holt] went out there, he said he felt fine. He probably tried to gut through it. For his sake and his long-term health, we felt the best thing to do was get him out of the game at that point.”

Ellis knew before the game there was some issue with the shoulder. He began to feel discomfort throwing in the bullpen, and it carried into the game. Ellis only threw six strikes in his 21 pitches, allowing three walks and hitting a batter.

“My arm wasn’t feeling great out there,” Ellis said. “I just wanted to go out there and compete and I felt like I wasn’t doing myself or the team any justice being out there, and I guess Hyde kind of felt the same way. Obviously frustrating, but we’ll see what happens in a couple of days.”

The Orioles now have Jordan Lyles, Bruce Zimmermann, Tyler Wells and Spenser Watkins as their remaining starters. It appears likely that Alexander Wells will also take over a spot in the rotation if Ellis is out for an extended time. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees April 17. He was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after the game but was on the taxi squad for the Orioles during their recent West Coast swing.

However, there are other options in the minors.

Norfolk starter Kyle Bradish was recently named the International League’s Pitcher of the Week. Bradish allowed one run on four hits and two walks while striking out nine hitters in two starts. He threw 125 pitches with 80 for strikes. Opposing hitters batted .129 against him (4-for-31).

Bradish appears to be headed to Baltimore at some point, but perhaps not this early. The Orioles don’t want to rush their young pitchers into the majors, but Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez could be viable options this season.

“I am just taking it one day at a time,” Bradish said. “I have no doubt that it’s going to come this year. I am just trying to stick with the process and trust the Orioles.”

Finding Power

The Orioles have hit just six home runs in their 16 games, which ranks last in the majors, and center fielder Cedric Mullins has managed two of those homers

The team appears on the cusp of breaking out of the slump.

Trey Mancini and Austin Hays each hit home runs in a 7-6 loss to the Angels April 24. The Orioles trailed 6-0 before their rally fell short.

“We got a couple of big homers that we haven’t had, which was nice,” Hyde said.

Mancini has been snake-bitten with bad luck. He has gotten the barrel of the bat on several balls that turned into loud outs. Mancini finally connected against the Angels, and the Orioles are going to need the bats to come alive with so much uncertainty surrounding the pitching, which has been stellar so far.

Entering this week’s series against the Yankees, the Orioles are third in the American League with a 3.17 ERA behind New York (2.53) and Seattle (2.96).

“It took a little bit of time,” Mancini said about his first homer of the year. “I’ve been hitting some balls really, really well and somehow wasn’t able to get one out. It did feel good to finally get one there.”

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Todd Karpovich

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