The Orioles and “pitching surplus” aren’t two things that usually go together. Much of the Orioles’ struggles in the 21st century have been a result of a complete lack of pitching. So I’m sure many readers find themselves shocked at the idea that their Orioles have enough starting that—two weeks into the season—the current starters have to be looking over their shoulders.
However, with Kyle Bradish eligible to return from the IL at the beginning of next week, the O’s are staring down the reality of having six starters for five spots in the rotation. This much feels certain when it comes to how Mike Elias & Co. will handle Bradish’s return: Baltimore won’t be going to a six-man rotation. With so many young pitchers needing innings to prove themselves, reducing their opportunities doesn’t fit the team’s overall plan.
It also seems unlikely that Bradish will get Wally-Pipped and lose his rotation spot because of his injury. Bradish dominated over the last two months of the 2022 season and showed the most promise of any of the young pitchers during the second half. With that in mind, demoting Bradish after seeing less than two innings in 2023 would again seem counterproductive for the long-term development of the roster. It’s also not as if all five of the starters currently in the rotation are pitching so well that it’d be unimaginable to remove them from the rotation.
With each starter likely to get another start before Bradish is eligible to return, we break down what they’ll have to do to keep their spot in the rotation.
Keep being the Orioles’ de facto ace with a $10M contract
The fact of the matter is there’s no way one Kyle kicks the other Kyle out of the rotation. Gibson was the Opening Day starter, is the highest-paid player on the team and has largely performed to expectations early on in the season. While he may not ever perform well enough to truly earn the “ace” label, he’s still the veteran presence that sets the example for the rest of the young pitchers. That role is far too valuable for the team to even consider removing him from the rotation. No matter what Gibson does in his next start, he’ll remain at the top of the rotation when Bradish is healthy.
Likelihood of being removed from the rotation: none
Show a better feel for his slider
The Orioles No.1 pitching prospect struggled to find a feel for his slider all of spring training and it often led to the big innings that defined his disappointing spring. The story wasn’t all that different in Rodriguez’s major league debut. Of the 19 sliders Rodriguez threw against the Rangers, only four were in the strike zone and only three resulted in swinging strikes. His inability to get the Texas hitters to chase his breaking ball significantly contributed to the big righty’s early struggles.
We saw as Rodriguez settled into the game that not only can he get outs with his fastballs and changeup, but at times those pitches looked truly dominant. After showing plenty of promise in his debut, it seems unlikely that the front office would want to send Rodriguez back to Norfolk already. We all know Rodriguez will be able to consistently gas up major league hitters, but if he can start controlling his breaking ball, he may fast-track his ascension to the top of the rotation. Either way, if Rodriguez can replicate his performance against Texas tonight in Camden Yards, there’s almost no chance he’s replaced by Bradish.
Likelihood of being removed from the rotation: very low
Stop throwing so many curveballs
When the Orioles acquired Cole Irvin from the A’s, they got a pitcher with 400+ innings of MLB experience who was coming off his best season as a professional. They also got one of MLB’s worst curveballs. In 2022, Irvin’s curve was rated as the fourth-worst big bender in all of baseball. The season before, the southpaw had the second-worst curve in the big leagues.
Through two starts as an Oriole, he hasn’t exactly figured rediscovered the feel for his breaking ball. Opponents are currently hitting .800 against Irvin’s curve, while only whiffing 7.1% of the time. Irvin isn’t an overpowering pitcher, with his fastball velocity ranking in the 32nd percentile so far this season. As such, all but eliminating the curveball from his repertoire isn’t a realistic possibility. However, if he can take a page out Kyle Gibson’s book by using his fastball and changeup to induce weak contact, Irvin can lean less on his breaking ball.
As the pitcher with the second most major experience (behind Gibson), it feels unlikely that Irvin would lose his rotation spot this early in the year. However, if his performances continue to suffer at the hands of his lackluster curveball, there’s certainly an argument that Brandon Hyde should consider pulling Irvin from the rotation.
Likelihood of being removed from the rotation: low
Rediscover his 2022 cutter
Last season, during his breakout campaign, Kremer featured one of the best cutters in all of baseball. In his best starts, the right-hander could alternate between a harder, low-90s cutter that bore in on the hands of lefties and a softer, mid-80s cutter with late break that’d dive away from righties. It was easily his best pitch and a major catalyst for his success in his second full season.
Fast forward to 2023 and that same cutter has become a home run magnet. Of Kremer’s team-leading three home runs allowed, all have come off his cutter. What was once a weapon against lefties and righties alike has now become something to feast on for hitters on both sides of the plate. In his most recent start against the Yankees, Kremer left a cutter so far over the plate that it looked almost like a BP fastball.
Orioles: we are going to release Franchy Cordero after he hit very well this Spring— Fuzzy (@fuzzyfromyt) April 7, 2023
Yankees: lol ok pic.twitter.com/KZmgEKvrCU
Without a reliable cutter, Kremer doesn’t have a pitch that he consistently can play off his fastball and keep hitters off-balance. Kremer still has minor league options left, meaning it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him sent down if he struggles again in his next start—both to make room for Bradish and to allow him to rediscover his form. However, with DL Hall, Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann all already at Norfolk—and given how good we know Kremer can be at the majors—sending Kremer down hardly feels like a good solution.
Likelihood of being removed from the rotation: medium
Prove you should stay in the rotation in your next start against the White Sox
Wells’ first two appearances in 2023 could hardly be more different. He’s gone from “damn-near perfect” in five innings of relief against Texas to “damn that was rough” last time out against New York. There are some positives to take away from his start against the Yankees, mainly a much higher strikeout rate and the fact that he pitched a full six innings. However, it’s still hard to ignore giving up four runs, two home runs and eight instances of hard contact over those six innings.
What we shouldn’t do with Wells, though, is let recency bias cloud our judgment of him. He was literally unhittable against the Rangers and has overall shown signs of growth as a pitcher. After hovering around mediocre in 2022, his cutter and curveball are showing signs of being plus pitches this season. Dating back to last season, Wells has shown the best ability among Orioles starters to keep runners off the base paths, leading the pack in xOBP and walk rate. In short, there’s plenty to like about Wells.
What the lanky righty from Oklahoma has working against him is that if any of the starters could make a seamless transition to the bullpen, it’d most likely be Wells. In 2021 as a rookie, Wells was second on the O’s in games finished and saves. His 45 career relief appearances are more than the rest of the current rotation has combined.
It’s this experience that makes Wells’ start against Chicago on Thursday seem like an early make-or-break opportunity. Show he can hold his own against a White Sox lineup that is closer to the Yankees than the Rangers in terms of quality, and Wells has a strong case to keep his place as a starter. Slip up again, and it seems likely Hyde will shift him back to a bullpen role to make room for Bradish.
Likelihood of being removed from the rotation: medium
Don’t let us be the final authority on who might be headed out of the Orioles rotation in the future, though! Vote in the poll below and let your opinions be heard in the comments.
Which starter makes way for Kyle Bradish once he’s healthy?
This poll is closed
None, Bradish goes to the bullpen or minors