Slimmer Irvin hopes to put up stronger early numbers for Orioles

SARASOTA, Fla. – Cole Irvin wants to eat more innings this season.

They’re on his new diet.

Irvin said he’s shed at least a dozen pounds after weighing 223 in his first year with the Orioles. He wants to pitch better in the early weeks of the season. He wants to feel better.

He's already got proof of the second one.

“I think it was a lot of eating habits, but I also did a lot of core work, which is where a lot of my problems were,” said Irvin, who was optioned in 2023 after only three starts. “I felt like I had a weak core last year. I was throwing harder, but I think it was a lot of upper body. I just made some adjustments to the arm path and all that and focused on my eating this offseason, and it just came off naturally with my training.”

Irvin became a gym rat with a healthier meal plan.

“I was training very high intensity,” he said. “Coming off back-to-back seasons throwing around 180 innings and then going to (77 1/3), you feel like you have a lot more energy in the tank going into an offseason. At least for me. So, I kind of used that as fuel. I took a week off and got right back into the weight room and was training hard. Really only had maybe Christmas and Thanksgiving off for two days, but I know I threw and worked out on those days, so I didn’t really take much off. And it’s partially due to just my frustration with how the year started.

“I’ve been really focused on doing the work. Even if I don’t want to do it that day. Don’t have that conversation with myself. I just do it. And so, I’m in way better condition, way better shape to kind of get going, but also my arm’s moving a little faster, my body’s moving a little faster, and I think that has a lot to do with the weight loss. I haven’t gotten my metrics from our team physicals and stuff in terms of body fat, so we’ll see if it actually changed, but I definitely feel it. I don’t feel like I’m carrying an extra 12-15 pounds around that I did last year.

“We’re in a good spot. I’m not saying I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m definitely not that guy. But I made some adjustments to who I was last year, and for the betterment of my career. So, I think I’m in a really good spot for that.”

Irvin gives high praise to wife Kristen for assisting him on a diet that provided more protein and less carbohydrates. But there are exceptions to this rule.

“Carbs are good for your high-intensity days,” he said. “It’s really just dependent, but I took out all the preservatives and the stuff that sits on shelves for a long time. It really can take a toll on your body. I took pride in my hunts this offseason, so I was eating some of my harvests. I had some natural meat in my freezer, so ate a lot of that this offseason.

“It was a leaner diet but high in protein and really good stuff. So, that and some greens, but mainly just tried to focus on the protein aspect. And less bread. Bread is my killer. I love bread. Bagels, any type of bread, I’m all in. So, I took a load off that and really saw big changes.”

The couple allowed themselves one cheat meal a week. Not for the entire day. That would be, well, cheating.

They’d make a stop at one of their favorite restaurants along their 90-minute drive to see one of your horses that’s receiving medical attention. They’d share a milkshake, maybe splurge on a burger or pizza. Irvin does a lot of grilling where he’s living in spring training.

“I was a little overweight coming in last year,” he said. “Could have been maybe just the offseason training being in Oakland, when I was a little more comfortable. Then, getting over here and trying to play catch-up and getting to know guys.”

Irvin isn’t the outsider anymore. He’s got a full season under the belt he’s had to tighten. And perhaps he can crack the playoff roster if the Orioles make it back to October baseball.

“I’m excited about this year,” he said. “We have a lot of expectations in the room. There’s been kind of an eagerness to our workouts. Guys have been in the weight room absolutely pushing some weight. And this is only four or five days into spring training, so hopefully that maintains and guys still enjoy doing that. But it’s been a lot of fun just seeing guys come in, working. A lot of guys stay connected through the offseason.

“It’s fun. You’re back with your friends and it’s exciting.”

The Orioles made Irvin feel comfortable right away in his first camp with them. It’s just how they operate. They exposed him to their data and instruction but also listened.

“I think there’s just a lot of trust on player feedback and stuff like that,” he said. “When I broke out the cutter last year, everyone was like, ‘ahhh,’ but then they trusted that I knew what I was doing and had the success with it. So, a lot of my meetings have been, ‘Hey, let’s keep throwing that cutter.’ That’s kind of what I was working on in the offseason.”

It’s a grip that Irvin learned from watching former Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, who’s now his teammate.

“I haven’t talked to him yet. I’m going to,” Irvin said.

“I’m excited to pick his brain a little bit, his intent behind that pitch, his thoughts on when he’s throwing it, why he’s throwing it in certain counts. A little chess, not checkers, conversations.”

Irvin posted a 5.50 ERA and 1.487 WHIP in 10 first-half appearances and a 3.40 ERA and 1.084 WHIP in 14 games after the break. He allowed nine earned runs in 33 1/3 innings after July, with four walks and 29 strikeouts.

“All in all, it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish, and I thought we finished pretty well,” he said. “I speak for myself in terms of results wise.”

“He’s huge for us from being a rotation candidate and being left-handed, a guy that’s pitched well,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “He had his moments last year, pitched well in Oakland for a couple years before that. Really like the adjustments that he’s making and looking forward to watching him pitch this spring.”

Irvin was given two “innings” in yesterday’s live batting practice session. He struck out James McCann and Austin Hays, issued a couple walks – the lack of a plate umpire leads to some judgement calls – surrendered a couple hard-hit balls and made a sterling pick of a scorching one-hopper from Jorge Mateo and faked the toss to first base before heading back to the dugout.

You could count it as a start, since he went first. And Irvin is the frontrunner for the spot in the back end of the rotation after appearing more likely to work out of the bullpen. There was a dramatic shift with Kyle Bradish and John Means headed to the injured list.

“I didn’t know what the expectation was coming in until the news dropped to the world that Means and Bradish will not be starting with us to start the year. Or at least Bradish isn’t. I had no idea, and they’re going to be back with us at some point,” Irvin said.

“My job is to get outs and try to find a way to finish hitters, which is why I made the change to my arsenal a little more. I emphasized that. I know these guys are going to be back. It’s just a part-time filling of the role. I’m ready to go whatever they were going to tell me to do. They haven’t really told me much beyond what they’ve said in the media. We (Bradish and Tyler Wells) are going to get every opportunity to earn that spot, so my job is not done.

“I have an intent this spring. I have a little fire under my belly with the way I started last year. I wasn’t happy. Granted, I pitched really well, but I wasn’t happy with how the whole year as a result turned out. … I’m anxious to get these games going to start building up and be ready to be called upon.”

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