For righty Kyle Brnovich, the road back from Tommy John continues this year in Bowie

BOWIE, Md. – After missing almost three of his first four seasons in pro baseball, Double-A Bowie pitcher Kyle Brnovich hopes for health this year just so he can be back on the mound consistently.

After the Los Angeles Angels drafted Brnovich out of Elon University in round eight of the 2019 draft, the organization shut him down. The following year, the pandemic hit baseball and the world, and there was no minor league season. So two seasons into his pro career, Brnovich had zero innings.

After that first year, he was one of four pitchers the O’s acquired for right-hander Dylan Bundy along with Zach Peek, Isaac Mattson and Kyle Bradish.

So yeah, this trade has worked out for Baltimore, and Peek and Brnovich begin this season with Bowie hoping to make that deal look even better.

Both pitchers are coming back from Tommy John surgery. Brnovich had his procedure on May 12, 2022 and returned June 26, 2023 to pitch in a Florida Complex League game. Peek had surgery in August 2022 and was back last August.

After a 2021 season on the O’s farm, where he posted a 3.22 ERA between High-A Aberdeen and Bowie, Brnovich began 2022 with Triple-A Norfolk. He was already just one step from the majors. But after allowing five runs over eight innings in two games with the Tides, he felt the elbow pain. He would not pitch again that year. 

“I got shut down by the Angels when I got drafted. And then COVID," the 26-year-old right-hander said at Bowie's recent media day. "It’s just been a tough go. But being able to appreciate now that I can play is fortunate. I’m excited, and it gives you a better appreciation for doing this.”

He is scheduled to start for the Baysox tonight in the second game of their season.

Brnovich made it back to throw 26 innings last year, pitched to a 4.50 ERA at four levels, including Double-A. He showed promise with just seven walks to 34 strikeouts.

“It was very exciting (to get back last year),” he said. “It was a long process and it adds up. But a lot of good comes out of that (long rehab) too. A lot of maturing and a lot of developing as a player. Just as far as my process and everything now, I feel a lot more professional about my business and know better now how to go about my routine.

“When you first get back out there, you have a lot of ups and downs and I saw some of that and also with other guys too. But they say once you get that first full offseason in and you get time off from throwing, you finally feel 100 percent again, which I think is definitely the case. Last year, you deal with setbacks and you just don’t feel completely right. But now, after that time off, you feel great. Finally I feel like I am in 2021 again.

“Just looking forward to competing again. You don’t realize how much you enjoy competing until you can’t.”

Unfortunately, the Orioles had a large group of pitchers on rehab in Sarasota last summer. The fortunate part was they pushed each other, helped each other and supported each other as pitchers like Brnovich and Peek were joined by Trey McGough, John Means and several others.

“I wish none of us got hurt, but for all of us to push each other, just in the weight room the atmosphere there was of friendly competition. ‘Hey, if you are going to lift that, I will try to do more,’" Brnovich said. "The friendly competition, you see it a lot throughout this organization, but especially when going through rehab. Then to have guys down there like Means and being able to pick his brain and see what it takes to pitch at the top level is one of the best things that can happen. There is a lot of good that came out of it.”

The mental part of the long rehab road can be challenging.

“I was really fortunate," Brnovich said. "We do a lot of mental skills stuff with the Orioles, and I got connected with one of our mental skills coaches and really just breaking it down to not get ahead of myself. Understanding you just have to go day-to-day, week-to-week. The hardest part is the length, the duration. You lose a year.”

But like some pitchers after that surgery, he found he had a bit more velocity. This spring, Brnovich, who once was mostly 90, 91 mph with his fastball, was throwing between 91 and 95 mph.

He also added a two-seamer and slider during his rehab, so his full repertoire is now four-seam, two-seam, changeup, slider and curveball.

“Early on in my rehab the velocity was actually, I was throwing harder than previously," he said. "This spring I did a PR (personal record) for my max velocity. Now just learning how to pitch with that sustainably is a new adventure. And I added those pitches. In rehab I got to work with Schmitty (Dave Schmidt, the O’s minor league pitching rehab coordinator) in Sarasota, and he has a lot of big league experience. So just going through some pitch development stuff and kind of, in a way, re-inventing myself but not forgetting what got me here.”

Brnovich, who was once on the cusp of the majors at Triple-A before he got hurt, resumes his comeback trail tonight pitching for the Baysox.

O's win series opener: The Orioles overcame a couple of in-game snow showers and the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday. Their 5-2 win gave them a 5-2 record. The Orioles are 3-0 in series openers.

Ryan O'Hearn, Gunnar Hendeson and Cedric Mullins hit solo homers and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez improved to 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA. He gave up two runs over 6 1/3 innings, throwing 97 pitches. He provided the O's their fourth quality start of the season.

Baltimore pitchers have allowed four runs or fewer each game this season. In doing so in the season's first seven games, they tied the 2002 O's for most such games to start a year in club history. Last season the Orioles went 82-19 (.812) when allowing four or fewer, the best record in the American League in such games.

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