A one-day gap separated Dean Kremer’s and Kyle Bradish’s spring debuts. It’s the furthest apart the Orioles’ right-handers have pitched in months.
For the second straight offseason, Kremer and Bradish trained together at Push Performance Gym in Arizona, competing against but also helping each other as they prepared to vie for spots in Baltimore’s rotation. After they spent the second half of the 2022 season pitching consecutive days, they “literally did everything together” this winter, Push director of strength Taylor Davis said.
“They were able to compete with each other literally day in and day out,” Davis said. “Dean lifted 400 pounds on dead lifts, Kyle wanted to do the same exact thing. Seeing who could jump farther, see who could jump higher, see who could run faster.
“They would throw back-to-back bullpens. When they would throw live [batting practices], they would throw back to back. … When they’re together, they feed off of each other.”
Both have proved to be the centerpieces of the trades that brought them into the organization. They met in 2020 at the Orioles’ alternate training site and “clicked right away,” Kremer said. After spending the latter portion of 2021 sharing a Triple-A rotation, they slotted side by side in the majors in 2022.
Among the dozen starting candidates in camp, the pair has an inside track after pitching well down the stretch. From August on, Bradish and Kremer combined for a 3.01 ERA while pitching 12 times each. Within, they each had two dominant starts against the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.
They worked together this offseason to carry that success into 2023, driving each other to strengthen their bodies and repertoires. After introducing sinkers midseason, they sharpened their respective versions. Bradish added sweep back to his slider, and Kremer developed one of his own.
Each helped the other improve his chances of making the Orioles’ rotation, in hopes they again could be in it together.
“He’s seen me at my best, and I’ve seen him at his best,” Bradish said “We were able to push each other like some other guys aren’t able to.”
Finding the ‘why’
When Bradish called Davis to let him know Kremer was considering spending last offseason at Push, he offered a quick scouting report of his teammate.
“‘He’s going to ask lots of questions,” Bradish told Davis. “He’s a student. He’s going to want to know why he’s doing everything.”
It’s proved an apt description. When Kremer, 27, and Bradish, 26, arrived at Push at 9:30 each morning, Bradish saw his plan for the day and accepted it, “whereas Dean, you could have a full-on, 30-minute conversation about one exercise,” Davis said.
It’s part of Kremer’s desire to understand the “why” of each action, a process that has benefited him as he seeks ideal shape and movement for each of his offerings. The lone player left in the organization of those Baltimore acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for star infielder Manny Machado in 2018, he began throwing his sinker in games in mid-August, then spent time developing a sweeping slider this offseason.
“The goal is to be able to have all the shapes,” Kremer said. “It gives me an opportunity to have a weapon against any sort of player that walks up there.”
Bradish, whose slider became his predominant pitch to right-handed batters after he added his sinker in September, was a resource for Kremer. That dynamic went both ways, with Andrew Amato, Push’s director of pitching, joking he refers to Kremer as the facility’s “Coach No. 3″ alongside himself and throwing trainer Daulton Barry.
There was a point this offseason when Bradish’s four-seam fastball didn’t have the natural ride cut — movement that sends it up and away to righties — he desired. Along with Amato and Barry, Kremer offered cues and suggested grips until the pitch was what Bradish wanted.
“He has a very, very good understanding of the very intricate details of what needs to happen to make a pitch move,” Amato said. “You can tell he’s been around other great players who have great pitches that he tries to emulate, and he’s done that. He’s made his pitches his own, and they’re really good.
“He’s always in Kyle’s ear giving him tidbits.”
Davis said Bradish and Kremer have different personalities when they’re around each other, having trouble putting the phenomenon into words. Bradish is the quieter one, though both routinely engage with the players at Push who aren’t major leaguers. At times, Kremer stayed later in the day until the gym’s teenage trainees would arrive.
“All these high school kids come out like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s a big leaguer. Oh, my gosh, I can’t talk to him,’” Davis said. “Dean will go like, ‘You wanna go play pingpong?’
“They’re just part of the gym.”
Bradish spent his first full offseason in the Orioles’ system at Push, having been one of four pitchers acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for starting pitcher Dylan Bundy the previous winter.
Kremer first trained at Push coming off the worst season of his life, a 2021 campaign in which he was bludgeoned in the majors and demoted to Triple-A. Davis said Kremer’s initial assessment took longer than typical as he peppered the trainer with an hour of questions.
Bradish began 2022 back at Triple-A, while Kremer opened the year in Baltimore’s bullpen, only to suffer an oblique strain warming up for his first outing. When he returned in June, he slotted into the rotation, one spot ahead of Bradish.
“It definitely gives both of us a sense of someone to always go back to,” Kremer said.
That combination was brief, lasting only three turns before Bradish went on the injured list himself with right shoulder inflammation, with his ERA through 10 major league starts at 7.38. When he rejoined the rotation — now positioned in front of Kremer — in the last week of July, he did so having mentally and physically reset.
But as Kremer took a massive leap from 2021 and Bradish did the same from the first half, they had a matching weakness: right-handed batters. They also had an identical solution.
Bradish had toyed with a sinker before his IL stint, but he and the Orioles’ pitching coaches decided to hold off on introducing a new pitch as he rehabbed. That allowed Kremer to be the first to introduce the pitch in a game. He went to Orioles pitching coaches Chris Holt and Darren Holmes and suggested a two-seamer, a pitch that would move in on right-handers while his primary offering, a cutter, moved away.
“These guys are all growth mindset,” Holt said. “But they also know what they do well. They know that it’s not going to replace another pitch entirely, but that there is a purpose and a use for the pitch within their pitch ecosystem.”
‘On the attack’
In his first outing using the sinker, Kremer held the Toronto Blue Jays to two runs in seven innings. With the pitch in his mix, right-handers went from hitting .305 against him to .222, with their slugging percentage falling from .477 to .339. The two-seamer also benefited his cutter; righties went from hitting .315 to .203 against it.
In 10 appearances consistently using the sinker, Kremer had a 2.76 ERA, ending the year with an overall mark of 3.23 — more than four runs below his figure from 2021.
“He’s just on the attack,” Holt said. “He’s pitching the way he knows how to and the way he wants to. He’s in charge of his game.”
Bradish saw similar results once he began throwing a sinker in games in early September. He already greatly improved since returning from the injury, with a seven-start run that included consecutive scoreless starts against eventual division champions Houston and the Cleveland Guardians. But as he prepared to face the Blue Jays for the third time in six outings, he wanted to give them a different look.
“In the first half, guys were getting a little comfortable, especially right-handers, looking out away because everything was going away,” Bradish said. “Just being able to keep them honest in.
“Being able to throw a pitch that you know can create weak contact is very, very big in this game.”
He posted a 4.11 ERA in six starts after introducing the two-seamer, with a disastrous outing in Boston spoiling what would otherwise have been a 2.22 mark. But the new offering had its desired effect against right-handers. Before he introduced the new fastball, opposing right-handers hit .308 with a .519 slugging percentage against him. With the sinker in the mix, those numbers dropped to .207 and .293, and their batting average off his four-seamer dropped nearly 100 points.
Amato noted that Bradish naturally gets seam-shifted wake on both his fastballs that allow for their movements “without manipulating a whole lot with his grip or the way he’s trying to throw it.”
“He has basically two really, really good outlier fastballs now to utilize for either side of the dish,” Amato said.
Bradish’s closing stretch included another gem against Houston in which he struck out 10 while coming an out shy of a shutout. Kremer finished one off the next night. In four starts facing the Astros, they pitched 16 2/3 innings each, allowing one run between them.
“The confidence factor for both of them was definitely in play,” Holt said. “The more they performed, the more confidence they gained.”
‘We want that spot’
In his spring debut Tuesday, Bradish was perfect in two innings, getting two strikeouts on his slider and two ground balls on his sinker. Two days earlier, Kremer gave up a run in his two frames, one of two outings he’ll have been before leaving camp to pitch for Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
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He didn’t debut the slider. Amato said the pitch is one that will be easier for Kremer to disguise than his curveball given his release point, adding it has the “double whammy” of having good movement and velocity.
“Dean’s probably one of the smartest guys in this clubhouse when it comes to pitching,” Bradish said. “If he puts his mind to something, he’s gonna figure it out.”
The two are in an Instagram group message with fellow rotation candidate Spenser Watkins, and although it began as a space to share funny videos among friends who all pitched in Triple-A together in 2021, it soon became a resource. The three of them will pass along various pitching videos they find, grips and cues they believe can help one another. Watkins has marveled at Kremer’s ability to take simple tidbits and apply them to his own game.
“You ride his coattails as he figures it out because then you might take a piece from him on something that he may have seen that you weren’t seeing,” Watkins said. “It’s really fun to be a part of his process.”
Each of the three had at least 22 outings for Baltimore last year, but so did Tyler Wells and Austin Voth. Offseason acquisitions Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin are likely guaranteed places in the rotation, and top prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall are pushing for opportunities from the other end of the spectrum. It’s a deep group, one of that leaves Kremer and Bradish without a guarantee they share the rotation once again.
“It’s a weird balance where you’re rooting for him and he’s rooting for me and we’re rooting for the other guys, as well,” Kremer said. “But selfishly, we want that spot.”
The challenge aligns with their offseason. They’re taking it on together.