At 19-9, the Baltimore Orioles have exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations through the first month of the baseball season. The offense, led by Adley Rutschman and Jorge Mateo, has been terrific. The bullpen, with the exception of Cionel Perez, has been solid, with success from the previously unheralded Yennier Cano, Mike Baumann, and Danny Coulombe leading the way.
The starting pitching, on the other hand, has been a mixed bag at best. Kyle Gibson and Tyler Wells have been rock solid, while pitchers who excelled in 2022 and were counted on for a big 2023 have struggled mightily. Grayson Rodriguez himself has been the epitome of a mixed bag, starting off slowly before two dominant outings. Suffice to say, the Orioles' rotation produced, good, bad, and ugly results in the month of April.
1. The Good
Kyle Gibson: When the Orioles signed veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson to a one year, $10M contract this offseason, they were looking for a veteran innings eater and rotation stabilizer. Gibson did all of that and more through six April starts, going 4-0 with a solid 3.93 ERA over a team-leading 34.1 innings. And how is the guy he replaced, Jordan Lyles, doing in KC? 0-5 with a 6.11 ERA. Advantage: Baltimore.
Tyler Wells: Many people (myself included) did not expect Tyler Wells to break camp with the team. In April, Wells did more than just make the team; he was arguably the Orioles' best starting pitcher, compiling a sparkling 2.79 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, and .176 batting average against over 29 innings. Wells most notably stepped up for the Orioles in their series opener in Texas after Kyle Bradish was struck on the foot by a line drive, throwing five no-hit innings en route to an Orioles win. Wells had a terrific first half in 2022 as well before an injury at Tropicana Field sidelined him for most of the second half, and will look to continue his success in the opener in Kansas City. Perhaps, next year, we'll learn our lesson and pencil him into our projected starting rotation in Spring Training.
Grayson Rodriguez's last 14 innings: Grayson Rodriguez embodies the good, the bad, and the ugly that the entire rotation has shown. Fortunately for the Orioles, the good has come lately by way of 14 straight scoreless innings, dating back to the Orioles win two weeks ago in Chicago. After a rough first inning in Chicago, Rodriguez threw four scoreless innings, and followed that up with a five-inning scoreless start against the Tigers last weekend.
What did Rodriguez do for an encore? Five innings of scoreless baseball against those same Tigers, this time in Detroit. Rodriguez has been outstanding of late, and while he will, most likely, allow another run or two this year, the Rodriguez of the last 14 innings has personified the Grayson Rodriguez who is arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball.
2. The Bad
Kyle Bradish: After a strong finish to his 2022 season, Kyle Bradish has gotten off to a rough start in 2023. Indeed, in his first start of the year, Bradish was drilled by a line drive off the bat of Rangers' catcher Jonah Heim and was placed on the IL shortly after. Although he returned with a stellar performance against the Nationals, Bradish has struggled immensely in his last two starts, allowing ten earned runs over only seven innings. His spot in the rotation seems secure for now, but with an overall ERA of 6.14, one has to wonder how much longer Bradish will continue to start for this team.
Grayson Rodriguez's first three starts: Grayson Rodriguez predictably experienced some growing pains in his first shot at facing Major League hitters, allowing 11 runs over 14.1 innings against Texas, Oakland, and Chicago, respectively. While Rodriguez pitched decently in these games (the White Sox game, as mentioned above, was his turning point), he had trouble finishing off hitters and held a 6.91 ERA after his first three games. Fortunately, that is a small sample size, the Orioles won two of those three starts, and Rodriguez appears to be turning the corner.
3. The Ugly
Cole Irvin: When the Orioles acquired left-handed starter Cole Irvin from the Oakland Athletics back in January for infield prospect Darell Hernaiz, Oriole fans were excited to be adding a stablizing, left-handed starter who worked fast and did not walk batters. The beginning of Irvin's career in Baltimore has unfortunately tempered that excitement. Indeed, the Orioles optioned Irvin to Triple A Norfolk after his third rough start in a row, which came against the lowly Athletics.
Over three starts, Irvin went 0-2 with an alarming 10.66 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, and a very un-Irvin like 8 walks in 12.2 innings pitched. Yes, this is a small sample size, and yes, Irvin will likely be back in Baltimore this summer, but it was also concerning when the Nationals' Triple A team knocked him around for ten hits and five runs over five innings on April 23, 2023. Fortunately, Irvin has sandwiched two good starts around the poor start and will likely be back with the Orioles before too long.
Dean Kremer: As a big fan of Dean Kremer's it pains me to include him in the "ugly" category. But that was the story for Kremer in April, save for his 6.2 shutout innings against the Washington Nationals on April 20. Overall, Kremer has an inflated 6.67 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 4 out of 5 bad starts to begin the year. His 38 hits and seven home runs allowed each lead the team, and his stuff has simply looked hittable. Hopefully, Kremer will turn things around in May, but with DL Hall knocking on the door and Cole Irvin potentially returning to the rotation soon, he might be the next domino to fall should the Orioles make a move in their rotation.
Grayson Rodriguez's first innings: Unquestionably, the ugly for the Orioles' top pitching prospect was the first inning of his starts. Despite shutting out the Tigers in his last two starts, Rodriguez still holds an unsightly 12.60 ERA in the first inning of his starts. He allowed two runs in the inaugural first inning of his career against Texas, one run against the Athletics in his second start, and four runs against the White Sox in his third. Chalk it up to pre-game jitters or having trouble finding his pitches early on, but the Orioles hope Rodriguez's first inning horrors have come to a close. Or, like chicken soup for the flu, perhaps the Tigers offense was really just the best medicine. Rodriguez's next start comes this weekend in Atlanta, with several fans closely watching his first inning on the mound.
Overall, the Orioles managed to go 19-9 despite some pedestrian overall statistics from their starting pitchers. The Orioles rank 18th out of 30 teams in batting average allowed and 14th out of 30 teams in team ERA (numbers that would be worse without the team's strong bullpen). The Orioles are 24th out of 30 in the Major Leagues in quality starts, with 6. The Pirates have 18.
I previously wrote about my concerns with the Orioles rotation back in February and unfortunately, a lot of them came to fruition in April. The Orioles' schedule in May will be challenging, with games against the first-place Braves, Rays, Pirates, and Rangers, as well as the Yankees and Blue Jays. This month, fans will truly see what this rotation is made of. And hopefully, it will be more of the good, less of the bad, and none of the ugly.