O's hope these two pitchers keep taking steps forward in 2023

Sure, the Orioles will be looking for a top-end rotation pitcher this winter, and maybe they actually add that guy or guys through free agency or via a trade.

But their rotation hopes for 2023 also would include seeing two young pitchers that took steps forward last season building on that. Those pitchers are right-handers Dean Kremer, who went 8-7 with a 3.23 ERA, and Kyle Bradish, who was 4-7 with a 4.90 ERA.

While these young pitchers completed their development, or are doing so on the Orioles watch, they both came in trades. All teams want to draft and develop young pitching, but you are happy to get it anywhere you can.

These pitchers did some encouraging things, especially later in the year, in 2022. Like shutting down the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros on back-to-back nights at Camden Yards on Sept. 22-23.

They combined to throw 17 2/3 scoreless innings with two walks and 16 strikeouts combined. During that series, former Oriole Trey Mancini was among those impressed by the Baltimore right-handers, and he talked to me about the pitchers in the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park.

“Their stuff is electric. Both of them,” Mancini said then. “Both times we saw them they shut us down, and it’s not an easy offense to shut down. You have to tip your hat to them. They did a great job out there and the stuff looks really good. I was their teammate for a long time, and to see them come along the way they have is very impressive. The stuff has always been there, and now that they are pounding the strike zone, it’s tough to hit. We were all impressed with the stuff we saw from them.”

Nice praise for the young pitchers that could make up 40 percent of the ’23 rotation.

Kremer impressed with an ERA plus of 124, throwing his fastball 41 percent, cutter 31, changeup 15 and curveball 13 percent. He got much less solid contact against him compared to the 2021 season, when his ERA was 7.55 and he was 0-7.

His hard-hit rate dropped from 45.3 to 39.4 last year, and the exit velocity against his pitches dropped from 92.8 mph to 87.9. He allowed a homer rate of just 0.8 per nine innings. His groundball rate increased from 30.2 to 39.2, and all these numbers were good for Kremer. So was his two-game mark versus Houston of 2-0 with a 0.54 ERA. His ERA was 3.90 against the American League East.

Kremer did this with a low, 2.4 walk rate, and even though his K rate was well below average, too, at 6.2, the better job he did with the contact numbers listed above allowed him to be a quality pitcher who did not strike out a lot of batters. But he was among the top 23 percent in chase rate. It didn’t lead to strikeouts as it does for some pitchers, but it seemed to lead him to good contact rates for any pitcher.

Bradish’s numbers were not at the level of Kremer’s stats, but he did have some eye-popping games, including the one in St. Louis on May 10, when he struck out 11 and walked none while allowing just two runs. Bradish had a strong, 45.3 groundball rate

Bradish’s late-season performance - after coming off a stay on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation in late July - was very, very encouraging. He went 3-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 13 starts from then to the end of the year. In his final eight starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.76 ERA and allowed just two homers.

Bradish was, however, that rare Bird with worse pitching stats at home than on the road. He went 1-5 with a 5.00 ERA and 1.71 homer rate at Oriole Park. He also posted a 7.21 ERA against AL East teams, so there are things to work on.

Kremer and Bradish will go into next season as pitchers counted on to be a big part of a Baltimore rotation that could also get a big boost from the arrival of top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez. This would add to the talented youth of the O’s pitching and give the club a homegrown product of their own to show off.

Kremer - with 134 innings last year, counting the minors - and Bradish, with 145 innings pitched, are both set up to throw 160-175 innings next year, and that is another area for the Orioles to improve on. While the World Series-winning Astros had five starters throw 148 innings or more in 2022, the Orioles had just one pitcher - Jordan Lyles - do that.

To really push for the postseason, the Orioles will need both more innings and more quality out of their starters. They hope they can count on Kremer and Bradish for both in 2023.

Minor league All-Stars: Left-hander Juan Rojas from the O's organization was named a Florida Complex League postseason All-Star on Friday. Rojas, 18, from Venezuela, was originally signed by Minnesota and traded to the Orioles late last season in the package of players the club got for reliever Jorge López.

In 11 games and 38 2/3 innings in 2022 for the Twins and Orioles combined in the FCL, he went 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA. He posted a WHIP of 0.93 with nine walks to 50 strikeouts and throws a fastball touching 93 mph.

Earlier, the Orioles had two Triple-A International League All-Stars in pitcher Rodriguez and shortstop Gunnar Henderson. They had one All-Star in the Double-A Eastern League in second baseman Connor Norby, and one in the high-A South Atlantic League in reliever Xavier Moore. 

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