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Orioles edge Nats, 1-0, in Dean Kremer’s redemption game

The right-hander had been struggling early in 2023. That all changed tonight.

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether the Orioles have the pitching to emerge as true contenders this season. But if Dean Kremer’s outing tonight in Washington was any indication of what’s to come, the outlook is suddenly looking a whole lot sunnier.

Kremer’s dazzling outing carried the Birds on a night when their offense was uncharacteristically quiet, leading the O’s to a 1-0 victory in the series opener against the Nationals.

After Kremer’s rocky first three starts, in which he often got himself into trouble by nibbling around the strike zone instead of attacking hitters, the Orioles wanted to see him be more aggressive this time around. And boy, did he answer the call. Kremer started with an 0-1 count to each of the first seven hitters, and by the end of his outing, he had thrown a first-pitch strike to 21 of the 25 batters he faced.

On this night, the 2022 version of Kremer had happily returned. He commanded his pitches. He filled up the zone. He induced awkward swing after awkward swing. Even if the Nationals offense he was facing wasn’t exactly the Gas House Gorillas of Bugs Bunny fame, it’s still a major league lineup that can do damage to a pitcher who’s not executing. Kremer was essentially flawless, mowing down one overmatched Nats hitter after another.

Kremer only faced one real scoring threat, and he handled it with flying colors. CJ Abrams led off the third with a single, and Victor Robles followed with a sharp grounder down the third-base line that Gunnar Henderson speared. Because he was pulled into foul territory, Henderson purposely five-hopped his throw across the diamond to make it easy for first baseman Ryan O’Hearn to handle. Except that O’Hearn just...didn’t. He whiffed on the scoop, advancing Abrams to third and Robles to second. Henderson was charged with the error, but any first baseman worth his salt should’ve been able to corral that one. Between O’Hearn and Mountcastle, it’s been a rough few days for O’s first basemen named Ryan trying to pick throws in the dirt.

No matter. Presented with a nearly impossible-to-escape jam, Kremer muscled up, opting to just blow the fastball past every remaining hitter. Kremer, astonishingly, threw 14 consecutive heaters, and the Nats couldn’t touch him. Lane Thomas struck out swinging. Dominic Smith struck out swinging. And Joey Meneses, after a seven-pitch battle, struck out swinging. Kremer shouted in celebration as he finished off Meneses, completing the Houdini act and stranding both runners in scoring position.

Meanwhile, the Orioles’ offense was similarly held in check by Nationals starter Josiah Gray, who began the game with three scoreless innings, stranding an Anthony Santander leadoff double in the second. In the fourth, the O’s scratched across their first run. A Mountcastle single and Adam Frazier walk put two on for Austin Hays, who smacked a sharp single to left field. Mountcastle chugged for the plate and a good throw would’ve nailed him, but Stone Garrett sailed one way offline. You might say it was...a Stone’s throw away from home plate. The toss was so off target that Hays tried to advance to second, but was cut down by catcher Keibert Ruiz, stifling any further rally.

The O’s had multiple opportunities to add to their one-run lead, but couldn’t buy a clutch hit. In the fifth, a Jorge Mateo double and Ryan O’Hearn walk opened the inning, setting up the top of the lineup, but Gray dispatched Cedric Mullins on a strikeout, Adley Rutschman on a fly to left, and Mountcastle on a grounder to third.

C’mon, guys! Gray gave up 38 home runs last year. I was expecting this to be a dinger party for the Orioles. I thought the Homer Hose would be flowing nonstop. The O’s did chase Gray in the sixth after a leadoff walk, but stranded that runner as well. They didn’t fare any better against the Nationals’ bullpen, with three relievers combining for four scoreless innings. The O’s went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, which on most nights would be a recipe for a forgettable loss.

This was not most nights. It was Dean Kremer’s night. From the fourth inning through the seventh, Kremer retired 11 consecutive batters, none of them hitting the ball particularly hard. He became the first Orioles hurler not named Kyle Gibson to pitch past the sixth inning and to throw a quality start. Only a Garrett two-out single prevented Kremer from getting through the seventh. With the righty’s pitch count at 95 and the lefty-swinging Luis Garcia up next, Brandon Hyde played the matchups and removed Kremer for southpaw Danny Coulombe, who promptly got the final out.

That closed the book on Kremer: 6.2 innings, no runs, no walks, four hits, and six strikeouts. This was vintage Dean Kremer, and it was a sight for sore eyes for an O’s rotation that badly needed a boost.

The Birds’ bullpen took it from there, starting with new sensation Yennier Canó, who I guess is the Orioles’ primary setup man now? After Canó’s two dazzling outings in Chicago, Hyde opted for the lanky right-hander in the eighth over a rested Cionel Pérez and Bryan Baker. Who could blame him? And Canó came up big again, dominating the Nationals with a perfect inning that included a strikeout. He also was one of the few relief pitchers who gladly rode the Nationals Park bullpen cart to the mound, a convenience that most hurlers eschew. Yennier, I’m with you. Why tire yourself out jogging to the mound when somebody will drive you there?

That left the ninth inning to Félix Bautista, who has been near automatic since his shaky start in the Boston series. Tonight, honestly, wasn’t his sharpest outing. He couldn’t seem to command the splitter with any consistency, and opposing hitters had some unusually good swings against him, including a two-out Luis Garcia single that brought the potential winning run to the plate. But Bautista won a seven-pitch duel with Ruiz, finally getting him to ground out on a splitter to end the ballgame and seal a 1-0 Orioles victory, as a largely pro-Orioles crowd at Nationals Park cheered their club’s brilliantly pitched win.


Who was the Most Birdland Player for Tuesday, April 18?

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    Dean Kremer
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