Former Navy pitcher Oliver Drake gets first taste of majors with O's

After call-up, could Oliver Drake become the second former Navy pitcher to debut in the majors this year?

When a player gets his first call to the majors, he expects to be inundated with phone calls and text messages — so many people want to be part of the excitement.

Among those who contacted new Orioles pitcher Oliver Drake on Saturday was St.Louis Cardinals reliever Mitch Harris.

Call it a Navy brotherhood thing.

“He sent me a text, congratulating me, said he'll be watching,” Drake said before Saturday's game. “I've loved watching [Harris] doing what he's been doing right now. He's been having some success. It's pretty cool seeing two Navy guys right now in the major leagues.”

On April 25, Harris became the first graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy to play in the majors since Nemo Gaines pitched four games for the Washington Senators in 1921.

Weeks later, Drake became the second former Midshipman to pitch in the majors in 2015, making his big league debut in the ninth Saturday.

“It's awesome. It's really exciting,” said Drake, who had a 0.96 ERA in 182/3 innings at Triple-A Norfolk this year. “I got the call last night. It's kind of flown by, but it's setting in right now, and it's a cool experience.”

The 28-year-old right-hander did not graduate from the academy — he spent only two years there, thanks to the Orioles. They selected him in the 43rd round of the 2008 draft and offered $100,000 to leave school.

It was a shrewd move by the club and local superscout Dean Albany, who realized that Drake was eligible to be drafted after only two years in college because he had already turned 21. If he hadn't been selected in 2008, he would have had to stay at the academy and fulfill his entire military commitment — the way Harris did.

Drake pitched well enough in the minors to be placed on the 40-man roster in November 2011. But a shoulder injury, which required surgery in 2012, derailed his career and cost him a roster spot. He fought back, and again was placed on the Orioles' 40-man roster this offseason. He could have gone elsewhere as a minor league free agent, but the Massachusetts native stayed with the organization that supported him during his surgery and rehabilitation.

“That was something I was really looking forward to,” Drake said about going back on the club's 40-man roster in November. “I've been here since I've been drafted. I've seen the way they'll open up opportunities for guys. And if you can get your way on the roster and pitch well, they'll have no problems calling you up, so it was huge.”

The Orioles needed a fresh arm in the bullpen Saturday after getting short outings from their starters Thursday and Friday. They had several options, but the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Drake had allowed just 10 hits and two earned runs while striking out 30 and walking four this season. His split-fingered fastball is considered one of the better pitches in the minor league system.

“Obviously, [his] numbers are good,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “[It's] the same reason why we wanted to put him on the roster [in the offseason].”

Showalter said he thought Drake's story of perseverance was inspiring, but “it would be cooler if he pitched well for us and never went down. That would be the cool part for me, personally. I have a little affinity for Navy, and for Army because of my dad [a World War II veteran]. So I'll take 'em all. It's pretty cool.”

Drake said things have moved so quickly for him in the past week that he hasn't had a chance to consider what he has accomplished. “I haven't really reflected too much yet. I'm sure I will,” he said. “It's been a long road. I'm just happy to be here right now.”

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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