When breaking down the differences between his time with Triple-A Norfolk this year compared to the majors, the stuff that really stood out to him, Cole Irvin’s mind immediately went to the obvious contrast.
The one that might stand alone and made him smile.
He couldn’t resist.
“I think the postgame celebrations are slightly different,” he quipped.
That’s a fair point. The Orioles are in a league of their own when it comes to saluting wins and milestones. They are the masters of merriment. The lights, the smoke, the loud music, the shower cart treatments that threaten to deplete the condiments supply in the food room.
But otherwise, Irvin talks about symmetry between the two levels and how instruction and the manner it’s delivered is replicated by different voices.
Norfolk pitching coach Justin Ramsey, an organizational climber like the prospects he’s mentored, keeps earning praise and respect from every corner. A vital cog in the continuity machine.
“In terms of the pitching side of things, Ramsey down in Triple-A, he’s handling a big burden, handling all those guys down there,” Irvin said. “What he does really well is being able to isolate the conversations to what guys need mechanically, taking the extra time. Like, if he’s got paperwork to do, he takes the extra time to spend time with a player if he needs to. He’s incredible for being a one-man team down there.”
Irvin rejoined the Orioles over the weekend, exposing him again to pitching coach Chris Holt and assistant Darren Holmes. An easy transition from the Tides. The distance of about 240 miles from Norfolk to Baltimore made to feel like a three-foot radius.
Ramsey knew about Irvin’s start Saturday afternoon, when the left-hander held the Royals to one run in 5 1/3 innings in his best outing with the Orioles. He couldn’t let the moment pass without a text exchange, though it was sparked by Ramsey’s school, Oral Roberts, registering a walk-off win against Irvin’s Oregon Ducks in the Super Regional.
“We were talking a little bit about (Saturday’s) game, but that’s just the personality that he is and the human that he is,” Irvin said. “He cares about his players. And the conversations that he has are also the conversations that these guys are having here. Everything is pretty much streamlined from the top down, and I think that’s what makes our group so unique, that when you get here it’s like, ‘Hey, we know what you’ve been doing well down there, we know (Ramsey) has been telling us this, that or the other. This is what you’ve been working on.’
“Even the strength and condition staff, the medical staff, everyone’s on par and knows everything that’s going on, and it’s pretty impressive. But from stuff to work on and stuff like that, there’s some really good communication when I first got optioned, about what I needed to improve on and work on. And again, that’s just because this organization really shows that they care about their players.”
Irvin needed to throw strikes again, pound the lower half of the zone, rely more on his sinker and changeup. Meanwhile, Ramsey pivots from his message to the veterans, including Spenser Watkins, and plunges into the plans for prospects like Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Drew Rom.
“What’s great is that, yeah, there’s a wide spectrum of talent, but what he does great is he knows the personalities of his players and he’s able to communicate very well the frustrations and stuff players are having within their own game, and this includes myself,” said Irvin, who was optioned after three starts.
“I felt comfortable going to him every single day, just to ask a question or figure something out. I never wanted to take more than I needed to of his time, but I enjoyed his conversations and it was hard to not try to have a conversation with him. And I think every single player feels the same way down there. And that’s what I think makes him so good is, you’ve got Grayson, you’ve got DL, you’ve got Rom, just some great talents down there on top of Watkins coming back from the finger situation and (Bruce) Zimmermann down there, who’s been throwing the ball well and working on things. He just does a great job communicating.
“Communication I think is such an undervalued trait from a pitching coach standpoint. If you’re able to know the personality of your players and be able to communicate and keep things loose, which he does, it goes a long way and truly shows down there.”
Irvin was supposed to provide leadership to the major league staff based on experience topped only by Kyle Gibson. The mentoring and available ear shifted to Norfolk’s clubhouse, where Rodriguez returned after the Orioles optioned him.
“We had a couple conversations and those are between us, but it wasn’t anything other than, like, ‘You got 10 starts. How are you feeling?’ Those types of things. And for him, he knows what he needs to work on, and those conversations he’s had with Ramsey,” Irvin said.
“He had a bunch of swings and misses the other day, and I’m sure internally he’s probably mad about something because he knows that something might not fly here. And that’s how I was when I was optioned. I’d have a good outing, but there were pitches that I was frustrated about because I was like, ‘That doesn’t fly at this level.’ And I think he understands that and sees that now, and that’s just going to go into his work ethic, which was already quality enough.
“He’s in a good place. I don’t think mentally he’s in a bad spot. He’s actually attacking it the way a pro should, so it’s been pretty cool just to watch his progression as a big leaguer and just a professional in general kind of grow.”
DL Hall also is in Norfolk’s rotation but in a separate phase. His last three starts have been shortened after the Orioles ramped him up.
The “DL” is short for Dayton Layne, but it also could stand for “de-load.”
“I don’t know what they’re doing with him, but the conversations I had with DL were really good,” Irvin said. “Before they did the de-load, he was throwing the ball really well. He stopped worrying about his velo and started learning how to pitch, and it was really cool, just the conversations he and I would have about his execution, how important it is to be able to learn how to pitch right now.
“His velo is down, and when it comes back, now he’s got that in his back pocket to be able to use. It was pretty cool to be able to have conversations with DL. He’s so talented, his stuff is electric, and I know he believes in it. I think he's in a weird phase right now and he wants that velo to be back, but I know he’s enjoying the part about learning how to pitch, so that’s pretty cool to see a kid in that phase.”