After his impressive major league debut, Orioles right-hander Kyle Bradish said that although he was nervous, he didn’t feel blown away by the stage.
“At the end of the day, it’s the same game I’ve been playing,” he said.
But that’s not entirely true. The pitch clock being tested in the upper minors has yet to arrive in the major leagues, meaning Bradish, the best of four pitching prospects the Orioles acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for Dylan Bundy in 2019, could take as long as he needed between pitches Friday as he allowed two earned runs in six innings.
The clock, though, didn’t seem to affect him much in Triple-A. In two starts with the timer in play — 14 seconds with no one on base, 18 seconds with any runners — Bradish allowed two earned runs in 11 innings. In fact, he said he felt the pitch clock was a greater issue for hitters, who risk being assessed an automatic strike if they’re not in the box with nine seconds left. Pitchers have to start their motion before the time runs out to prevent a ball being added to the count. Early results found average game times were reduced by about 20 minutes and some nine-inning games have been played in under two hours, with little action lost as dead time between pitches was removed.
“I didn’t really have a problem with it, just because I like to work fast,” Bradish said. “But I could tell the hitters, the opposing and our hitters, were having issues with it because they’ve got to be in the box after, like, five seconds, so they don’t really get time to decompress on what just happened and think what’s going to happen next.
“It was nice because some hitters like to take their time when I’m ready to go, so gave them a little push to get in the box.”
Right-hander Chris Ellis, who started the season with Norfolk and is now on the major league injured list, made his lone start for the Tides this year before the pitch clock was in place, part of a control period designed for comparative purposes. He said that when the clock was introduced, Norfolk’s coaching staff explained the rules to the players.
“I think a lot of guys were kind of like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’” Ellis said. “And then they enforced it on them, and everyone’s like, ‘Man, what the hell?’”
Conversely, Tyler Nevin, recalled from Triple-A along with Bradish on Friday after posting a .980 OPS in Norfolk, said he found the system somewhat unfair to pitchers, given that rejecting two pitch signs from the catcher might be enough to burn through the clock. As a hitter, though, he said he had little issue with the additional timers, though he had some trouble when leading off an inning.
“It does kind of suck when you have to run in from left field into the first base dugout, but it’s not too bad,” Nevin said. “I think that’s where we’re headed, so you’ve got to deal with it, but I don’t think it’s a huge negative. I think that once we work all the kinks out of it, it can be a huge benefit for the viewing experience.”
To Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, that would be the most significant aspect of these changes reaching the major leagues, a possibility as soon as next season with Major League Baseball having the ability to impose new changes with 45-day notice as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.
“I think it’s important from a fan experience,” Hyde said. “The beauty of baseball is that there’s not a clock, in that there’s not an end of the game except when the ninth inning is over. But at the same time, for me, we could do a better job of that nine innings of being able to make it move a little quicker, and I think fans would appreciate that.”
Right-handed starter Jordan Lyles, by far the most experienced member of the Orioles’ pitching staff, said he would welcome a pitch clock for the sake of fans, noting there are some relievers who get three straight outs but take 20 minutes to do so. He worries, though, about the impact it could have if pitchers rush, throwing a pitch they’re not confident in in a big spot.
“I understand the reasoning and the want to get better, but if it comes down to affecting guys’ mentality because they don’t want to take too long and they’re just doing whatever, just to beat a clock, I don’t think it should be that way,” Lyles said. “We showed up to the field to win this game. We need to put ourselves in the best situation. It’s a happy medium of you want everything to move quicker, but also you don’t want to jeopardize doing the wrong thing.”
Lyles noted that the introduction of PitchCom, a system where catchers use an armband to relay signs to pitchers and a handful of fielders with earpieces, has helped speed up situations with runners on second, where catchers have used more complicated sign sequences to prevent the opposing base runner from relaying what’s coming to the batter.
But that system’s not fully in use in the minor leagues, with Ellis saying situations with a runner on can still drag out.
“In the minor leagues, when you have guys on second base and they’re going through sign sets and stuff, it’s like, ‘Oh [crap],’” Ellis said. “In my head, I’m like, ‘I have four seconds left, three seconds left.’
“There’s that internal clock.”
As early as 2023, there will be a real one in the majors.
What’s to come?
It will be a week of “What if?” at Camden Yards.
Beginning Monday, shortstop Carlos Correa and the Minnesota Twins are in Baltimore for a four-game series, one that will feature Bradish starting opposite Bundy on Wednesday. It’s not clear how much involvement the Orioles had in Correa’s free agency, with the superstar infielder eventually signing a three-year, $105.3 million deal with the Twins that features opt-outs after each of the first two seasons. But many fans allowed themselves to dream the first big move of the Orioles’ rebuild would be signing Correa, whom executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias played a large part in the Houston Astros drafting first overall in 2012.
A player Elias passed on with a No. 1 pick then comes to Oriole Park as a visitor over the weekend, with infielder Bobby Witt Jr. and the Kansas City Royals playing a three-game set starting Friday. In 2019, the Orioles happily selected catcher Adley Rutschman first overall, leaving Witt to the Kansas City Royals with the second pick. If not for Rutschman’s right tricep strain suffered on the cusp of spring training, both phenoms would be in the majors, and this could’ve been the first showdown between them.
What was good?
Ryan Mountcastle’s projected 423-foot rocket beyond Camden Yards’ deeper, taller wall in the ninth inning Friday ended what had been an occasional talking point in Baltimore’s clubhouse: not who would be the first to hit a home run there, but “just if there would ever be a first,” Mountcastle quipped the next day.
“That’s one of the best balls I’ve ever hit,” Mountcastle said, “and it went about three rows deep.”
The difficulty in reaching, let alone clearing, the wall showed the rest of the weekend. Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts and Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander both hit fly balls that would have gone out in previous seasons, with Bogaerts becoming the first hitter to see a would-be homer become an out Friday and Santander having to settle for a sacrifice fly instead of a grand slam Sunday.
Orioles infielders Chris Owings and Jorge Mateo may have also joined that group, though Statcast readings were less clear on what their fly balls’ results would have been with the old dimensions. Still, Owings’ ball that had an expected batting average of .080 would have been one worth holding breath over before this season.
“I’m probably shellshocked a little bit here,” Hyde said recently, “but every time a ball goes up in the air to left field the last few years, I felt like it was a chance of a homer, and now I don’t feel that way.”
Owings could have used that homer. He finished the week hitless in six at-bats, striking out three times. For the year, he’s 2-for-18 with three walks against 12 strikeouts, entering Sunday with the highest strikeout rate of any major leaguer with at least 20 plate appearances.
The Orioles signed Owings, 30, to a minor league deal at the start of spring training to add some experience to their infield. With rosters set to reduce from 28 to 26 on Monday, he’s possibly running low on time to make an impression.
On the farm
Rutschman’s arrival in High-A Aberdeen on a rehab assignment might have been the story of the week, but third baseman Coby Mayo stole the show. In Rutschman’s first game with the IronBirds, Mayo homered twice, then went deep the next two days, as well. Mayo, a 20-year-old ranked by Baseball America as the Orioles’ No. 10 prospect, is slugging .558.
The show will have to continue without Rutschman, who will join Double-A Bowie this week along with left-hander DL Hall to continue his progression.
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