Branden Kline’s white lab-German Shepherd mix, Zoey, was born Oct. 6, 2015, the same day he underwent Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his right elbow.
“I make a joke my dog and my arm are the exact same age,” Kline said with a smile Saturday from inside the Orioles’ clubhouse, the site where the journey that never took him too far from home finally culminated in a major league call-up.
Kline, 27, served as the Orioles’ 26th man for the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins, pitching two innings and allowing two solo home runs in the eighth in his major league debut. The Orioles’ second-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Virginia, Kline grew up in Frederick, but the path from there to Baltimore was far longer than the hour-long drive between locations.
In 2013, a broken right fibula required surgery. A platelet-rich plasma injection in May 2015 preceded the Tommy John surgery, and two 2017 arthroscopic procedures on the back of the elbow followed.
After three lost seasons, he returned last year as a reliever, his big arm and breaking pitches playing to the tune of a 2.88 ERA in 44 games between High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, with 17 saves along the way.
So when Triple-A Norfolk manager Gary Kendall interrupted Kline’s efforts on a Sudoku puzzle to call him into his office and deliver the good news, Kline became overwhelmed.
“I cried for a solid 30 minutes after I got the news,” he said. “It was obviously excitement, but at the same time, it was the journey to get here, one injury after the other, after the other. I let my emotions kind of go. As guys were congratulating me, other things would pop up. The fact that I grew up 45 minutes away. The fact that I grew up coming to these games as a little kid and that I’d potentially have the opportunity of going out there on the same field that I watched a lot of guys from the seats.
“I’m a little bit of a softie, but everything is good now.”
He cried some more after he told his wife, Sarah. He had tried to get her to come down to Harbor Park Stadium so he could share news of the call-up face to face instead of by phone, but their 1-year-old daughter, Adalyn, was sleeping. Luckily, the Tides’ game was rained out, allowing Kline to get home early to tell Sarah before calling his parents and hers.
Kline was officially added to the roster between games, when reliever Josh Lucas was optioned to activate right-hander Alex Cobb from the injured list for the Game 2 start.
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He figured he had 15 to 20 friends and family at Camden Yards on Saturday to watch his debut, plus whoever his mom might have told and gathered for the occasion. They saw Kline pitch a perfect seventh inning, with teammates congratulating him as he entered the dugout.
“It was about 25 years of work that went into that,” Kline said. “… It’s unreal. I really can’t put it into words. Just with the guys coming, saying congratulations, I still couldn’t put it into perspective what I just accomplished.”
He returned for the eighth, surrending home runs to Mitch Garver and Nelson Cruz, and was optioned back to Norfolk after the 16-7 loss with the Orioles needing to reduce their roster back to 25.
“There's a lot of moving parts today,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
Hyde, though, said he was pleased to see Kline make his debut, one where he showed off a high 90s fastball but at times struggled with slider command. Hyde also enjoyed watching Kline pitch in spring training, where the pitcher recorded eight strikeouts with one walk in 4 2/3 innings. It’s also where Kline realized his stuff could get the guys he had watched on TV out, and he did just that Saturday.
Kline’s stay at Camden Yards was far shorter than the journey that brought him there, but he savored every moment.
“For right now, all I know is I’m here,” Kline said before the game. “Right now, I’m just taking it moment by moment, not even day by day, trying to soak everything in as best as I possibly can.”