SARASOTA, Fla. — Kyle Gibson didn’t want to make too much of his first time donning an Orioles uniform in a game, given it came in a spring training exhibition. The 35-year-old right-hander figures any associated feelings will be stronger in his first regular-season start, whether that comes on opening day or soon thereafter.
“I would like to think that my rotation spot’s secure, barring a spring training meltdown here,” Gibson said. “But I don’t worry too much about opening day.”
Signed this offseason to a one-year, $10 million deal, Gibson will likely make more in 2023 than the Orioles’ other 11 rotation candidates combined, and his nine years of major league service time are six more than any of the others. He and fellow offseason acquisition Cole Irvin, a left-hander added in a trade with the Oakland Athletics, are seemingly the only locks for the rotation, though Irvin said after his spring debut that he views himself as fighting for a job because he still has a minor league option.
But the bigger question regarding Gibson is whether he starts opening day March 30 in Boston. He’s made one season-opening start in his career, failing to make it out of the first inning for the Texas Rangers in 2021. Although the Orioles have incumbents who pitched better than Gibson in 2022, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his experience win out.
“This front office has an idea of how we’re going to fit into a five-day rotation better than I do,” Gibson said. “They could have some sort of idea of who wants to be in front of and following who, where they want to put Cole, where they want to put a lefty. I don’t know everybody’s stuff, either, but I do know that there’s an advantage to having certain pitchers following certain pitchers in the rotation. And if I got a chance to throw opening day, that’d be great. Boston’s one of my favorite places to pitch, so it’d be a lot of fun either way, but I’m not getting too wrapped up in that.
“But yeah, I would like to think that I’ll be one of those five guys.”
Kremer sharp before leaving camp
Behind Gibson, Dean Kremer retired nine of 10 batters he faced in Friday night’s 1-1 tie against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his final outing before he’ll leave the Orioles to pitch for Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
“I think he’s ready as you can be,” manager Brandon Hyde said.
Among the 10 incumbent rotation candidates, Kremer is likely a front-runner, leading the group in major league innings last year and performing well while doing so. He’ll temporarily leave camp having left a strong impression, though the Orioles will obviously monitor his WBC outings, having been in contact with Israel’s coaching staff about Kremer’s usage in the tournament.
“I was excited when the rosters came out and I was excited when I got asked last year at this time whether I wanted to play or not,” Kremer said. “Anytime I get to represent the country, more than happy to do it.”
Nonroster invitee Darwinzon Hernandez, who will pitch for Venezuela in the tournament, pitched a scoreless eighth inning. The two other WBC participants on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, outfielders Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander, also played Friday. They’ll both start again Sunday, which will be Mullins’ final game before joining the United States team, while Santander will appear in a final game Monday before leaving to play for Venezuela.
With those four players leaving camp, Hyde said the Orioles have yet to discuss further cuts from their current group of 71 players. Losing two starting outfielders will create more playing opportunities for Baltimore’s large group of players vying for opening day roster spots at first base and the outfield corners.
‘Better,’ but how?
Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez generated some buzz after Thursday’s start against Detroit by telling reporters, “My stuff is better than it was last year.” One would hope that year-to-year improvement would be the case for a 23-year-old prospect who’s immensely talented, but it obviously bodes well that Rodriguez feels that way after he suffered a lat muscle injury that cost him three months and kept him from making his major league debut.
Following up Friday, Rodriguez listed three reasons for deeming his stuff improved from 2022, when he posted a 2.62 ERA and 36.6% strikeout rate in 17 starts around the injury:
- His cutter is more consistent. He added more velocity to the pitch — in his two starts last season against Triple-A Charlotte that came with publicly available data, he threw the cutter from 89-92 mph — and made its movement “less sweepy” to play more like a fastball, though he noted he retains the ability to throw it like “a harder slider.”
- He brought back his changeup’s “screwball-type” movement, the type he showcased in the 2019 All-Star Futures Game. “Not necessarily making it too big and loopy,” Rodriguez said, “but we’ve gotten some more depth on it.”
- He focused on the spin of his four-seam fastball, working to generate “a little bit more vertical break out of it.”
He seemingly showcased none of those changes Thursday. Baseball Savant, a site that showcases Major League Baseball’s public Statcast data, doesn’t show him having thrown a cutter among his 21 pitches. The movement of his changeup, horizontally and vertically, wasn’t dramatically different from those he threw against Charlotte. The same applied to the vertical break and spin rate of his fastball; he got the pitch up to 98.9 mph, again in line with last year’s starts.
Any of these outcomes could simply be byproducts of small sample sizes, both in terms of Thursday’s start and the two 2022 starts available for comparison. Rodriguez’s confidence is welcome, regardless, and that he impressed the way he did in two innings suggests how impactful he can be in the Orioles’ rotation this year.
The DL Hall conundrum
Thursday also brought the news that Hyde doesn’t believe left-hander DL Hall will be able to get stretched out enough to make the Orioles’ rotation out of camp after experiencing lower back discomfort late in the offseason.
Baltimore’s No. 2 pitching prospect behind Rodriguez, Hall was always going to prompt intriguing decisions this spring. His stuff is among the best in the minor leagues, but he’s had bouts of trouble throwing strikes and has never pitched 100 innings in a season as a professional. After he settled into a relief role late last year, he handled it with aplomb.
But Hall sees himself as a starter, and the question the Orioles face is whether he would be better off beginning the year at Triple-A or as a reliever in the majors, where he could also continue stretching out to start. Asked Friday which of those options he would prefer, Hall said he “wouldn’t go one way or the other.”
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“Wherever they find a spot for me, that’s where I want to be,” Hall said. “I trust in my talent enough that they’ll want me bad enough to put me in the big leagues.”
He acknowledged the reality he won’t be built up to be a traditional starter, saying, “Obviously, it’s frustrating. He pointed to the “different dynamic” this spring, citing the Orioles’ desire to contend and the rotation competition.
“I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason,” Hall said.
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