Time remains in the offseason to break down the top storylines of spring training, the most anticipated interviews, the most intense competitions, the best and worst of everything. The dissections will cut deep. The repetition that usually follows will numb the mind.
The locker belonging to pitcher Branden Kline is going to attract media despite the interviews he gave last weekend at FanFest and Thursday night on 105.7 The Fan’s “Hot Stove Show.” He’s talked about his injuries, the comebacks, the transition from starter to reliever, the increase in velocity on his fastball, his tremendous 2018 season, his placement on the 40-man roster. He’s talked about being the local kid from Frederick. Ample ground has been covered. Large stretches of real estate.
We’re going to want more. More of the same along with updates on his bullpen sessions, game appearances and how his arm is responding. How his chances look of breaking camp with the team.
There’s room in the bullpen, depending on whether manager Brandon Hyde carries two or three left-handers, or whether the Orioles try to carry Pedro Araujo for the first 17 days to remove his Rule 5 status, or whether a veteran is added, or whether the commitment remains to keep Mike Wright Jr., or whether someone else out-pitches him.
Kline stayed healthy in 2018 and flourished, posting a 1.31 ERA and 1.113 WHIP in 20 2/3 innings with Single-A Frederick and a 1.80 ERA and 1.044 WHIP in 45 innings with Double-A Bowie to earn a spot on the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft. He averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings last summer, walked only 18 batters and surrendered only three home runs.
Missing almost three full seasons following Tommy John surgery and two subsequent cleanup procedures makes the reward so much sweeter. It also provides Kline with lots of material.
There’s the freakish injury in 2013 - a year after the Orioles selected him in the second round out of the University of Virginia - when he fractured his fibula while performing agility drills in the outfield at low Single-A Delmarva.
“I was sidelined about two months with that,” he said. “Mentally, everybody was saying to me, ‘Hey, it’s a bone, it will heal. At least it’s not your arm.’ And I was like, ‘That’s actually making a lot of good sense.’ So I just kind put my head down and just kept working, thinking that was going to be the only injury bug that I had.”
It grew to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Kline made eight starts in 2015 and didn’t pitch again until 2018.
“This time, unfortunately, it was my arm,” said Kline, who tried rest, a platelet-rich plasma injection and more rest before succumbing to the surgery and later experiencing pain on the backside of his elbow that led to two arthroscopic procedures.
“I haven’t had any issues since,” Kline said. “I’ll say, whenever you know surgeons by their first name, it’s usually not a good thing.”
Or when you have their numbers on speed dial. Or they send you cards on the holidays.
“It’s not good when you show up and James Andrews is calling you by your first name,” Kline said. “That’s for sure.”
Kline is grateful that the Orioles stuck with him, sending him to two surgeons and waiting for the problems to be resolved. He’s grateful to his wife for being supportive and keeping his spirits up through the setbacks and rehabs.
Rather than becoming a minor league free agent, Kline was placed on the 40-man roster and allowed to begin the countdown to his first major league spring training.
“When I got the call saying I was being protected, I was thrilled, but at the same time in my mind it’s only a small stepping stone,” he said. “Guys don’t dream as kids saying, ‘My goal is to get on the 40-man.’ No, it’s to be in the big leagues. It’s a great opportunity, but at the same time the goal has not been reached.
“I got to tell my wife, I got to call my parents back home. I thought my mom was going to have a heart attack. I had that moment there, but after that 24 hours, the next day, Monday morning, I was up at 6:30 going to the gym and throwing and getting ready for the season. So I’ve got some goals that haven’t been reached yet, and I’m looking forward to the upcoming season.”