Baumann's best pitch graded on a curve

The heat that Orioles reliever Mike Baumann brings with his fastball isn’t what he used to burn the Mariners on Saturday afternoon.

Baumann was put in the unenviable spot of inheriting an automatic runner at second base in the 10th inning. Throw the last warm-up pitch and step into a jam. Scoring position with no outs in a tie game. None of it your fault or the previous reliever’s.

One of baseball’s newer rules, intended to shorten extra innings and save pitching staffs, isn’t intended to favor the guys standing on the mound. But they deal with it.

Baumann reveled in it.

The big right-hander fielded J.P. Crawford’s comebacker and struck out Julio Rodríguez and Ty France, and Ryan McKenna hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th.  Baumann settled for best supporting actor in a dramatic win.

Both strikeouts came on pitches that the stadium gun identifies as a knuckle curve, but that isn’t completely accurate.

“It’s just kind of a spiked curve,” Baumann said yesterday, showing me the grip at his locker. “I don’t know how they picked that up. It’s a curveball with the classic spiked fingers.”

Baumann toyed with it back in 2020 and didn’t have much of a feel for the pitch. Couldn’t trust it in important situations.

“That’s why I was kind of more heavy fastball, slider, cutter,” he said. “But this year I worked on it a little bit more and have been able to command it better, so it’s kind of been my go-to.”

The curve has become Baumann’s primary secondary pitch, as he throws it 25 percent of the time, according to Baseball Savant. He has a 36.9 whiff percentage, compared to 12.8 last season, and a 26.4 putaway percentage that’s a notable increase from 10.4 last summer.

Opponents posted a .333 average against the pitch in 2022 but are batting .195 this season.

“It is devastating when it’s an 89 mph or 90 mph curveball,” said manager Brandon Hyde.

Baumann went slider, slider and four-seam fastball to set up Rodríguez, and he threw back-to-back curves to France after showing him the slider and four-seam.

Automatic runner Kolten Wong didn’t budge. He became a spectator before heading back inside a losing clubhouse.

“That’s probably the pitch I’m most confident in in that situation. I was able to get to two strikes and put them away,” Baumann said after lowering his ERA to 4.23 in 35 appearances, which are tied with closer Félix Bautista for most on the club. He’s first in inherited runners.

“Definitely been able to rely on my fastball, too, and still trying to stay unpredictable, because I have a lot of confidence in that,” Baumann said. “Even if I need to bring out the cutter with two strikes, I’m more than willing to do that, as well.”

Baumann arrived in spring training as one of about a dozen starting candidates, had his role switched late to short relief and broke camp with the team.

The flip-flopping between rotation and bullpen wasn’t uncommon for Baumann, but the Orioles decided to shorten his outings and maybe get more velocity from his fastball.

He’s given them a lot more.

“He just had three pitches going (Saturday),” Hyde said. “Fastball’s got a ton of life, slider was 93-94, and upper-80s curveball. I hope he just continues to gain confidence.

“I’ve been really impressed with him, the change in roles, the two weeks of trying it out in spring training. And he’s had some really good moments so far this year. I want him to pitch with a ton of confidence and trust his stuff.”

Saturday’s win was the fifth for Baumann in five decisions, tied with Tampa Bay’s Colin Poche for most in the American League. Only the Giants’ Scott Alexander matches his 5-0 record.

“I’m aware of it, but it’s just situation,” Baumann said. “I’ve been getting a lot of run support when I go in. And extra innings is always fun when you can go in in the 10th and the team can get a win.”

Baumann warmed yesterday in the seventh but didn’t pitch. He’s available tonight when the Orioles start a three-game series against the first-place Reds at Camden Yards.

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