Manager Brandon Hyde made clear Friday that the Orioles are going to continue to “take our lumps” this season. In optioning rookie right-hander Dean Kremer to Triple-A Norfolk, the organization made clear they no longer want him to be the one receiving those hits.
This will be Kremer’s third trip to the minors, with the first sending him to the Bowie alternate training site during a portion of the schedule littered with days off and the second featuring a two-start “reset” with the Tides before rejoining Baltimore. Hyde said this will be a longer stay, one intended to fix a pitcher who has posted a 7.25 ERA through 12 starts and said Thursday that his issues were more mental than physical after he recorded only one out while issuing five walks and allowing a grand slam in a 9-0 loss against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“Just right now, he’s having a hard time going from start to start, outing to outing, being consistent with his stuff and his command,” Hyde said. “That’s why we felt like it was the right thing for us to do to, and for him to do, is to go pitch in some little bit lower-pressure situations and go work on his command.”
But Kremer is not the only rookie starter who has struggled for Baltimore in 2021. The quartet of Kremer, Keegan Akin, Bruce Zimmermann and Zac Lowther — all of whom Baseball America ranks among the team’s top 20 prospects — have started 29 of the Orioles’ 76 games, combining for a 6.61 ERA as starters while averaging fewer than 4.5 innings per outing.
With Kremer optioned, Akin, who opened the season in the minors, is the only one currently in the rotation. Kremer will join Zac Lowther in Norfolk’s rotation, while Zimmermann, an Ellicott City native, will be on the injured list for a couple more weeks.
When Baltimore needed a spot starter last week after scratching Zimmermann with left bicep tendinitis, Lowther was the Tides’ scheduled starter. Instead, the Orioles added soft-tossing right-hander Thomas Eshelman, a 27-year-old who has been up and down with them over the past two years. The move seemingly showed a focus on Lowther’s development over the major league team’s needs that night. Hyde said sending Kremer down when the Orioles lack starter depth provides another example of that prioritization.
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“There’s been times when we needed them to start here because we didn’t have anybody, and that’s just being realistic,” Hyde said. “I think right now with Dean, the right thing to do is for him to — we’ll take our lumps up here, spot starter or whatever we have to do, but for him to go make starts down there and figure some things out, because he’s shown flashes of being really good here.”
In Kremer’s most recent start before Thursday’s disaster, he followed a two-home run first innings with five scoreless frames. In the first three starts of his September 2020 call-up, he had a 1.69 ERA with three straight one-run starts. But that early success came in what Hyde called “a tough evaluation year” because of the coronavirus pandemic canceling the minor league season and limiting the major league campaign to 60 games.
Instead of getting regular starts in Triple-A, the group worked in a controlled environment in Bowie, though it’s one player and Orioles leadership have praised for its developmental impact. Still, Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias have repeatedly noted the importance of having success in Triple-A before reaching the majors. Of this crop of young starters, only Akin has spent a full season there. Zimmermann has made eight starts at that level, while Kremer, Lowther and No. 20 prospect Alexander Wells, who took Kremer’s roster spot and is a candidate to replace him in the rotation, have each made six.
“There’s no breather ever here, and there’s no days off, and nobody feels sorry for you,” Hyde said. “They’re going to come out and try to get you, and we’re in a tough spot. We don’t have a ton of starter depth. We have young guys that are trying to survive in the big leagues, in the rotation. And they’re facing offenses that are built to win postseason games, playoff games, and sometimes you take your lumps up here, and you go back down and try to figure it out, come back. It’s where we are right now, organizationally.”
There is more pitching coming behind this crop. Kremer will join Lowther and fellow top 20 prospects Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith in Norfolk. The Orioles’ top three pitching prospects, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Michael Baumann, are all in Double-A Bowie.
But the odds of this rebuild succeeding increase with each arm that sticks. The Orioles sent down Kremer so that he can be one of them.
“Hopefully, these guys can deal with the adversity and learn from mistakes and continue to grow, continue to develop,” Hyde said. “We’re gonna do the best we can to put them in position to have success. But also, we need to fill out a rotation, too. We’re doing the best we can with what we have.”