Orioles will keep counting on players to fill voids in roster

The Orioles live by the next-man-up credo. Outfielder Austin Hays referred to it Friday night as a “mentality.” Manager Brandon Hyde and starter Cole Irvin used the phrase multiple times yesterday.

“We just rally together, we stick together,” Hays said, “and guys continue to just step up for one another.”

How many steps on the ladder before a hard fall?

The attitude is admirable but eventually can be overwhelmed by the reality of the situation. We didn’t know the severity of Kyle Bradish’s elbow injury until yesterday. Some soreness would have been the best news, though still a reason to put him back on the 15-day injured list and let it calm down.

The fan base would do the same.

No such luck. Bradish has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, leading to debates about the newness of the injury. He had it in January and received a platelet-rich plasma injection. He didn’t undergo surgery. So wasn’t he actually pitching with a sprain during his eight starts?

Guess it doesn’t matter.

We knew the worst news Friday night without speaking it into existence. It’s lingered in minds ever since executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias confirmed on the first day of spring training that Bradish sprained his UCL.

The platelet-rich plasma injection was like taking a shot in more ways than puncturing the skin. It was intended to prevent a reconstructive surgery and loss of the 2024 season.

So far, so good until the fifth inning of Friday night’s game, when Bradish spoke up about the discomfort and left after only 74 pitches.

There’s no way to minimize the damage to the team if he’s lost for an extended period, which will be determined after further testing. Bradish was fourth in American League Cy Young voting last year. He was a second ace after Elias traded for Corbin Burnes. His ERA of 2.75 was lower than last season’s 2.83 and his strikeouts per nine innings jumped from 9.0 to a career-high 12.1.

Was Bradish actually better than the 2023 version that started Game 1 of the Division Series? Nothing far-fetched about that opinion.

"He's an ace," said reliever Danny Coulombe, who generated his own concerns with his left elbow inflammation and the delay in the team offering more details. "I'm extremely impressed. Last year he had a great year but he still knew he could get better. The strikeouts, you can see, are way up this year. ... The kid's a stud."

Coulombe offered his assessment after Bradish retired 18 Rays in a row at Tropicana Field – and after Bradish hadn’t pitched in a week.

Looks more like a red flag now unless what happened Friday night is just a coincidence.

The explanation for pushing back Bradish basically was about giving all of the starters extra rest if possible during a stretch with only one off-day this month. OK, but any tinkering with Bradish is going to raise questions based on his January diagnosis and stint on the injured list until May.

You can only list TBA so many times before suspicious minds begin to race.

John Means and Tyler Wells won’t pitch again this season. Coulombe is an unknown despite the optimism expressed. Dean Kremer begins an injury rehab assignment today at Triple-A Norfolk, a right triceps strain seeming more like a head cold compared to the elbow injuries.

No, the Orioles did not have too many starters at one point this season. The depth allows for others to step up, but there are limits and Elias will remain in contact with other clubs about all sorts of pitching.

New ownership brought the slogan “The Next Chapter” to the organization. “The Next Man Up” just sort of happened.

The Orioles are taking it to the limit, one more time.

(If you get The Eagles' reference, congrats, and you're old.)

“You can’t really worry about that right now,” said reliever Jacob Webb. “I think we’ve got to just focus on winning each ballgame day in and day out. Whoever we’ve got that day is who we’ve got that day. I think next man up is the mentality right now. We’re pretty good at picking each other up.”

“We all have a job to do,” said Cole Irvin. “We don’t dictate the circumstances, we don’t have control over the unfortunate things that happen throughout a season. We don’t know the full, what Kyle’s going through and what he’s got going on, but it is next man up, you know? There isn’t an option. We don’t that control over what we do in terms of who’s out here, who’s pitching. It is next man up, it is pass the baton. It is, ‘Hey, let’s just continue to do the work that we’ve been building on, watching each other go out and put up zeroes, limiting damage. Doing the things that we can control.'

“That’s the most important thing that we need to do. Injuries are part of the game. You hate to see it happen so often this year, not just in our clubhouse but in other clubhouses, as well. But it’s just the nature of the game. We’re in a new landscape with his pitch clock, among other things. We’re still learning about what’s really causing these issues. So I think at the end of the day we still have to have that mentality of next man up, get our job done."

The alternative is to fold. That was never in the cards after posting the best record in the American League last season.

“We’re still in a tough stretch here and we’re trying to focus on winning ballgames tonight and the night after that," Irvin said. "We can’t be thinking about the what-ifs of what could happen. We just control what we can control.

"We’re in control of where we want to be at the end of the season. We’re in a good spot, we’ve got a good ballclub, and we’re going to be all right.”

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