Irvin retires all six batters in dominant spring debut (Orioles win 2-0)

BRADENTON, Fla. – Cole Irvin’s first exhibition start today featured a significant increase in velocity and routine disposal of the six Pirates batters that he faced.

Irvin struck out three, on a 95.3 mph sinker, 92.2 mph fastball and 88 mph cutter. His four-seamer touched 95.

All five of his pitches showed an increase over the 2023 season. The cutter jumped 3.5 mph from the norm.

“I’m feeling good,” he said. “All in all, just blessed. A lot of the hard work in the offseason is starting to pay off. That’s what I attribute it to. It was a longer offseason for me because I gave myself no breather of rest, because I just wanted to get better. And so far we’re starting to see the labors of the work, and I’m just thankful for the gifts of God.”

“He’s in great shape,” said catcher James McCann. “I know he made a few little mechanical changes and it’s led to him … Just talking to him, I don’t think he sought to increase velocity. I think that it’s just kind of a byproduct of the few things he was working on in the offseason. He looks really good.”

Irvin said he dropped between 12-15 pounds through improved diet and sessions with his strength and conditioning coach, “lifting more weight than I ever have,” and he also worked on his delivery and pitch design.

“Just cleaned a lot of things up,” he said. “I’m just glad the hard work is just showing up. There’s still a lot of spring training left to go and I’m just trying to maintain it and putting my best foot forward.”

With Kyle Bradish and John Means headed to the injured list, Irvin is set up to rejoin the rotation as long as he impresses in camp. He has the inside track, along with Tyler Wells.

Today’s results were encouraging to Irvin, who otherwise has relied on live batting practice to see results and get feedback.

The radar readings also provided further proof that he’s a different pitcher than the one who was optioned after three starts last season.

“I’m not striving for that, I’m not shooting for that,” he said. “Just trying to be a better version of myself than I was last year, and I was pretty good in that second half. So, just trying to build on good things and good habits.”

“He’s a big piece for us, man,” McCann said. “I really think that, he pitches like he did today, that’s going to be huge for us. Obviously, he has a history of throwing the ball well when he was in Oakland. Last year, there were signs of it, and I think he can be a big piece for us.”

Irvin threw 14 pitches, 10 for strikes, in both innings. Left-hander Keegan Akin replaced him in the third.

“Good day of work,” Irvin said. “Didn’t throw a couple pitches that are new to the repertoire, so bullpens this week I’m going to throw it a little bit more. There’s areas I’m going to keep working on and keep improving.”

The game was scoreless until the seventh inning, when Coby Mayo walked, Tyler Nevin singled and Enrique Bradfield Jr., last year’s first-round draft pick, reached on an infield single and forced shortstop Sergio Alcantara into a throwing error. Bradfield stole second base.

The kid’s blazing speed isn’t exaggerated.

Pittsburgh didn’t have a baserunner until Tucker Davidson walked first baseman Rowdy Tellez with one out in the fifth inning. Connor Joe broke up the no-hit bid with two outs on a shot to the left side of the infield that third baseman Jordan Westburg couldn’t corral.

Irvin and Pirates starter Mitch Keller both threw 14 pitches, 10 strikes, in the first inning. Keller finished with 30 pitches in two frames, allowing one hit, walked two and striking out two.

Second baseman Nick Maton made a diving backhand stop of Ke’Bryan Hayes’ scorching ground ball to end the bottom half of the inning.

The Orioles acquired Maton (pronounced MAY-tahn) from the Tigers on Feb. 7 for cash considerations. He made his first Opening Day roster last spring and is trying to head north with the Orioles in a utility role.

Maton lined a Keller cutter to Tellez to strand two runners in the second inning.

Jorge Mateo didn’t lose a step over the winter. He lined a ball into left-center field with two outs in the second and turned an apparent single into a standup double. Sam Hilliard walked before Maton batted.

Colton Cowser, who delivered a two-run, walk-off homer yesterday, walked in his first two plate appearances today from the leadoff spot. He swiped second base in the third inning.

Hilliard, serving as designated hitter today and trying to make the club as a reserve outfielder, walked in his first two plate appearances. Westburg reached on an infield single.

Heston Kjerstad grounded a single into right field in the sixth inning for the third Orioles hit of the afternoon.

Akin retired the Pirates in order in the third on fly balls to right, center and left. Bryan Baker breezed through the fourth, getting a strikeout on a pitch timer violation.

Luis González surrendered a leadoff double to Nick Gonzales in the sixth and escaped the jam.

* The Orioles defeated the Pirates 2-0 and improved to 2-0 in the Grapefruit League.

Wadisson Charles inherited a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh and stranded two runners after a single, stolen base and two-out, seven-pitch walk. Ryan Long retired all six batters he faced with two strikeouts to record the save.

Nevin led off the ninth with a single to make him 2-for-2, and he scored on Maverick Handley’s single.

Manager Brandon Hyde liked the way Irvin worked inside to right-handed hitters.

“His fastball’s up to 95, at least on the gun we’ve got here,” Hyde said. “Had a really good fastball. I thought he mixed well. I thought he and Mac worked really well together. It was nice seeing him work both sides of the plate like he did.

"When he did that last year, he had success for us, whether it was a four-seamer or the cutter into righties. That was a point of emphasis and he did that really well today.

"He came in in great shape, I think he learned a lot from last year, and did a great job making some adjustments this offseason. The velocity is up early and that's good to see."

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