Who stays, who goes? The ripple effect of Kyle Bradish's return to Orioles' rotation

Baltimore Orioles Photo Day
Baltimore Orioles Photo Day / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

He's baaaack! Well, almost.

Kyle Bradish is set to rejoin the Orioles' rotation this week, completing a remarkable recovery from a sprained UCL in his pitching elbow that many feared would sideline him for at least the entire season. With Tommy John Surgery constantly lurking in the background, Bradish's recovery began with a set-back free spring and the announcement that he would return "early in the first half of the season." Even still, few expected news of Bradish's imminent return to come in April. But it did.

The Orioles' 2023 ace and Game 1 starter in their first playoff game since 2016, Bradish's return to the mound started with throwing live batting practice in Aberdeen, followed by a start with Double-A Bowie. Bradish's final two rehab starts took place with the Norfolk Tides. He was most impressive in his final tune-up, throwing five innings and allowing only one run while striking out six.

Who will Kyle Bradish replace in Orioles rotation?

Manager Brandon Hyde told reporters that Bradish has been throwing the ball well, and the question is where he will fit into the starting rotation, not if or when he will return.

Where indeed.

The 17-9 Orioles have been rolling on all cylinders, and their starting pitching has played a key role in the hot start. With Bradish's impending return and lefty John Means not far behind, the Orioles will likely have to remove two starters from the group of Corbin Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez, Albert Suarez, Dean Kremer, and Cole Irvin.

Burnes isn't going anywhere. The Orioles ace and prize offseason acquisition has been as good as advertised, going 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA in six starts this season. But for a blown save by Craig Kimbrel Friday night against the Athletics, Burnes would be tied for the major league lead with four wins.

"He threw the ball really well last night and our medical team talked to him this morning,” Hyde said. “Our pitching guys, as well. He feels great. We’re just looking right now kind of when to slot him in, but he’s going to be with us soon.”"

Brandon Hyde on Kyle Bradish's return

Grayson Rodriguez is in no danger of losing his starting spot either. While the former top prospect struggled in Tuesday's loss in Anaheim, his 2023 second half and strong start to the 2024 season make his rotation spot safe.

However, any of the remaining three starters may be vulnerable. The safest is likely Dean Kremer, who has been a solid but unspectacular member of the rotation since 2022. Kremer is 1-2 with a 4.61 ERA this season. After a poor start against the Brewers on April 13, Kremer has rebounded, somewhat, to allow three runs over 5.2 innings and two runs over 5.1 innings in his last two starts. In his most recent outing, Kremer struck out 10 Angels batters, and his rotation spot is likely safe.

That leaves Cole Irvin and Albert Suarez as the two most likely to draw the short straw. Oh, what the 2020 Orioles would have given for this "problem" with Irvin and Suarez during a season when journeyman Tommy Milone started on Opening Night in Boston and pitchers Thomas Eshelman, Wade LeBlanc, and Asher Wojciechowski made multiple starts. Both are pitching incredibly well - and by incredibly well, I mean simply not allowing any runs. Following Saturday's dominant seven innings of shutout ball against Oakland, Cole Irvin has now thrown 13.2 innings of shutout baseball over his last two starts, doing everything in his power to remain in the rotation.

Suarez has not allowed a run in his 11.1 innings of work (two starts) since joining the Orioles. One of the feel good stories of the season, Suarez shut out the Twins over 5.2 innings before blanking the Angels over 5.2 innings in last week's series-opening win in Anaheim. One of the stars of spring training, Suarez has seemingly breathed new life into his MLB career, a career that had been on pause since 2017 when the right-hander pitched to a 5.18 ERA in San Francisco. Under normal circumstances, Suarez would likely be given the opportunity to continue his comeback journey in the Orioles rotation.

But these are not normal circumstances. And unfortunately for Suarez, due to his small sample size of dominance, he is very likely to be the odd man out when Kyle Bradish returns. If only the 2020 Orioles could see us now!

Kyle Bradish's imminent return is amazing news for Birdland, as the Orioles look to continue their hot start to the season. But it may not present the best news for one of the best stories of the season in Albert Suarez, who appears ticketed for the bullpen or perhaps Triple-A Norfolk's rotation. But these are the pleasant predicaments good teams find themselves in all the time, and Orioles fans would not trade these "problems" for the more significant issues of seasons past.