The clubhouse joke last week week when the Orioles promoted Mike Wright from Triple-A Norfolk was that the bullpen badly needed an infusion of imposing size to join everyman relievers Zach Britton, Brad Brach and T.J. McFarland in case a skirmish broke out.
Wright is 6 feet 6, 215 pounds and often wears a gold chain outside of his T-shirts, so if this baseball thing doesn't pan out, the role of head-knocking bouncer could be in his future.
The way he threw in his major league debut Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards — pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels — Wright doesn't have to moonlight any time soon.
The 25-year-old from small-town South Carolina was nothing short of brilliant Sunday, mixing in a high-90s fastball, low-90s sinker, and a sharp slider, curve and changeup to help the Orioles (16-19) avoid a sweep in a three-game series against the Angels (19-18).
Wright hadn't pitched in 10 days, and in his last outing he walked five in Triple-A, but there was no rust and no visible nervousness as he dominated for more than seven innings.
"That's everything you dream of going into it, and it was really fun," said Wright, who gave up four hits, walked none and struck out six. "I was a little nervous the first inning. It's to be expected."
Wright (1-0) became the first Oriole to deliver a scoreless start in his major league debut since lefty Chris Waters shut down the Angels in 2008. Wright was the first to accomplish that feat at home since Anthony Telford in 1990 versus the Oakland Athletics at Memorial Stadium.
"I think he just handled himself so well," Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace said of Wright. "His anxiety level wasn't what one would think for first start in the big leagues. He was pretty much under control emotionally and knew the pitches he had to make."
Although he primarily had the calm countenance of a veteran, there were moments Sunday that demonstrated his youthful exuberance and served as a reminder that he was at East Carolina University just four years ago before being selected by the Orioles in the third round of the 2011 draft.
In the seventh inning, when he picked up a double play to keep his shutout alive, Wright triple-pumped his fist into his glove as he walked off the field.
Before the game, he stuck with his longtime routine of sitting in a near-empty stadium and reading a book. What was the novel of choice before the biggest moment of his life? "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows," the final installment of the young adult saga that Wright admits he has read in its entirety at least three times.
Roughly two hours later, Wright used his pitching wizardry to befuddle the Angels. He retired the first nine batters he faced, pitched out of a one-out, two-runner jam in the fourth and produced five perfect innings. His first career strikeout was on a 98-mph fastball that blazed past reigning American League Most Valuable Player Mike Trout in the first inning.
"That was pretty exciting, definitely, to have your first big league strikeout be Mike Trout," Wright said. "That is a pretty good thing to have."
Trout and the Angels' other superstar, Albert Pujols, were a combined 1-for-6 against Wright.
"He threw a great game," said Pujols who had a fourth-inning double, but was stranded when Wright induced a groundout and a strikeout. "We didn't know much about him, but he was pretty aggressive, didn't make many mistakes."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia didn't offer his club's unfamiliarity with Wright as an excuse.
"There is definitely some of the inherent advantage a pitcher has when hitters haven't seen him, but I think it was more than that," Scioscia said. "He pitched a good game. There's no doubt about it."
Wright didn't know he'd be starting until Saturday evening, when it became clear he wouldn't be needed in relief and instead would be tabbed for a spot start in a game the Orioles desperately needed to win.
They had scored twice in 18 previous innings against the Angels in two losses this weekend, wasting excellent efforts from Wei-Yin Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez.
The Orioles plated only three runs Sunday —- Adam Jones scored on a wild pitch by Garrett Richards (3-2) in the fourth and then smacked a two-run double in the eighth — but it was enough for Wright. His gem was preserved by Brad Brach, who struck out both batters he faced in the eighth, and closer Zach Britton, who picked up his eighth save with a scoreless ninth.
When Wright walked off the mound with one on and one out in the eighth, the announced crowd of 41,733 gave him a rousing, standing ovation. Wright looked straight ahead to the dugout and didn't tip his cap, but he did take his time with the walk, soaking in the applause.
"I just wanted to kind of savor it," he said. "I tried to, you know, look up and see what was going on so I could make sure I remember that forever."
He wasn't the only one. His parents, girlfriend, sister and her boyfriend were in the stands cheering. And Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he, too, embraced the scene.
"Somebody said somebody was crying up there [in the stands] when he came out of the game, I said 'it was probably my wife,'" Showalter joked. "When you stop getting your hair to stand up and goose bumps, you need to go do something else. You're lucky to be there for that."
Now the question is whether Wright will he get another chance to start this week. The rotation is in flux with health questions surrounding Bud Norris (bronchitis) and Chris Tillman (back spasms). And Wright, who was 3-0 with a 2.64 ERA in six starts at Norfolk, has proven, at least for one sparkling outing, that he can compete at the top level. So, is he staying?
"Well, he didn't pitch a complete game, so he's out of here," Showalter said. "No. We'll look at it. We'll start talking about it."
On Sunday, Wright was focused only on the opportunity he had, and what he did with that long-anticipated chance.
"There's plenty of people who have spent more time in the minors, but when you make the steps going through, it's unreal getting here," Wright said. "Every time you get moved up in the minors, you've got to step forward. You're taking a step forward, you're taking a step forward. When you get here, that's what you were walking toward. So to actually be here was amazing."