SARASOTA, FLORIDA — After missing his chance to make an impression at major league camp last spring because of an oblique injury, Orioles right-hander Dean Kremer certainly isn’t missing that chance this time around.
Now on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, Kremer was singled out by manager Brandon Hyde for what he brought late in Monday’s 8-7 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. He was saddled with the loss thanks to an error on the key play of the game, but the welt on the inside of his knee and the blemish on his spring resume won’t sting as much knowing what the manager thought of his first impression.
“I was really impressed with Dean,” Hyde said. “I like the life to his fastball; I like the aggressiveness. Like Keegan [Akin], he's got a nice curveball. Threw some really good cutters. I thought Dean looked like he'd been out there before."
Kremer, who was acquired in 2018 as part of the five players the Los Angeles Dodgers sent to the Orioles for superstar Manny Machado, feels like the biggest difference this time around is that he’s simply able to participate.
He said this was how he hoped to start things off last year.
“I wouldn’t say my mindset has changed,” Kremer said this past weekend. “Even last year, if I would have gotten to participate, my mindset would have been the same — just be aggressive and show that I could play here, that I can belong at this level. It’s the same thing that my mindset is going into this year.”
Kremer showed that in his first look of the spring, waiting deep into Monday’s game to have a chance to pitch. He was scheduled for one inning, but made quick work of the Phillies with two strikeouts in the eighth and returned for the ninth.
A leadoff double came around to score when Kremer barely missed being able to make an out after he tracked down the comebacker off his knee, and first baseman Taylor Davis tried to back-pick the runner at third base and threw the ball past third baseman José Rondón for an error.
According to the stadium gun, Kremer impressed with a fastball that was up in the mid-90s in a shorter-than-usual stint. His curveball has always been his out pitch since he came to the Orioles, but he spent time in the Arizona Fall League and offseason bringing along his slider and changeup.
He got good feedback from Hyde and director of pitching Chris Holt in the fall, and knew entering his spring debut that the real test would come in games.
But as he grows to use his entire four-pitch arsenal more, he could end up benefiting from a piece of advice from outfielder Mason Williams during live batting practice last week. Williams told Kremer after his first inning of the two-inning game simulation that he was coming set differently on his changeup than his other pitches.
“It’s definitely a benefit, having your own guys tell you, ‘Hey, you’re doing this on this, or doing that on that,’” Kremer said “It definitely helps.”
Kremer said he learned, essentially, how to learn by observing last year as he was in major league camp without getting to even throw a baseball. Even with the ability to be a part of things this year, he says that’s continued.
“I’m learning a lot this year just from being around guys with a lot more experience than I have,” he said. “Just getting to talk to them as well, and more watching them and how they go about their business, definitely has benefited me.”
All this, the Orioles hope, will create a young pitcher who can help at the major league level at some point in 2020. Kremer led the minors in strikeouts in 2018 between the Dodgers and Orioles organizations, and had a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Double-A Bowie last year before he was bumped to Triple-A Norfolk.
Kremer had good strikeout numbers in his four Triple-A starts, but gave up 19 earned runs in 19⅓ innings, so there’s likely to be some seasoning required for him at that level before the Orioles give him the call.
But there’s a big difference between being a nonroster invitee, as he was last year, and being on the roster with Triple-A experience. The Orioles’ front office showed discipline in not speeding up the the timeline for their well-regarded prospects for major league need last year, and have added starting pitching depth in the offseason to protect them from needing the likes of Kremer and Akin before they’re ready.
That’s not stopping Kremer from approaching the spring like he’s out to prove he belongs — and possibly accelerate his arrival with the big league club.
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“I’m hoping that’s the case, but I can only do as much as I do on the field,” he said. “Then, it’s up to them whether they decide to have me or not.”