As pitching prospects move up or down to Triple-A Norfolk, getting the bump from Double-A Bowie or the boot from the Orioles, the Tides are stringing them together in a rotation that earlier was patched with minor league free agents.
Dean Kremer took the ball Tuesday and left-hander Zac Lowther the next night. John Means, on his injury rehab assignment, interrupted the flow on Thursday and pushed back Kyle Bradish to last night and lefty Kevin Smith to tonight.
Alexander Wells’ placement on the taxi squad yesterday also factored into the shuffling. But that’s a normal occurrence for Norfolk, where the tread on the shuttle tires is worn paper thin.
Wells is most deserving of a recall - the good kind in baseball, not the bad kind with a vehicle - after his back-to-back scoreless outings this month. The Orioles must be more patient with Kremer and Lowther, the more highly ranked prospects in the system who are struggling to find their rhythm and get outs.
In Kremer’s first two starts after the Orioles optioned him again, he allowed eight earned runs and 13 total with 12 hits in 7 1/3 innings. Most recently, he surrendered three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. All of the scoring came in the second on a pair of Memphis home runs.
Lowther returned to the Tides after making a relief appearance with the Orioles on July 7 and lasted only one-third of an inning, allowing five runs and four hits - including two homers - with two walks. He’s 0-4 with a 6.93 ERA and 1.784 WHIP in seven starts with Norfolk over 24 2/3 innings. Lowther has issued 15 walks and struck out 29 batters.
The Orioles gave Lowther five opportunities, including one start, but the work was spread out on April 25, May 8, June 6 and July 4 and 7. The No. 9 prospect in the system, per MLBPipeline.com, would seem to benefit more from some stability and a normal starter’s routine in Triple-A rather than serving as a bullpen fill-in.
The game doesn’t always allow for it. The Orioles have fallen upon some desperate times. Anyone with a fresh arm and capable of providing length could get the call.
Kremer also figures to stay down for a while, certainly based on manager Brandon Hyde’s comments after the most recent optioning. This wouldn’t be a quick reset.
“It’s been done several times with guys who have come down here. Keegan Akin came down here for a little while, and (Bruce) Zimmermann. Kremer’s here now,” said Norfolk pitching coach Kennie Steenstra.
“The big leagues isn’t easy and these guys are aware of that, but at the same time, sometimes just to get away for a little bit, kind of regroup and remember who you are and what got you there in the first place. I think sometimes guys get to the big leagues and try to add on a little bit more, try to do some things they’re not quite capable of doing and get out of their comfort zone. With Dean, since Day One coming back here it’s just been, let’s reestablish what you’re good at and keep working on the things that you need to work on.
“The results weren’t good the other night (July 6), but he had a really good start two starts ago. It’s just finding that consistency again and doing the things that got him there in the first place and then adding on the things that he’s continuing to work on.”
Kremer was one of the biggest pieces of the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers, a pitcher who led the minors in strikeouts in 2018. He allowed only one run in each of his first three major league starts in 2020 but keeps falling on hard times and tumbling back down to Triple-A.
“My opinion of him has not changed. I’ve liked him since the first day I saw him at Bowie,” Steenstra said.
“I think the ability’s there. The confidence probably got a little shaken, which, we’re all human at the end of the day. You get banged around a few outings, you start doubting yourself a little bit. It’s easy to do. So, I think hopefully coming down here and resetting and clearing his mind a little bit, he’ll get that consistency back that got him there in the first place.”
The composition of the Orioles rotation is unclear beyond Jorge López’s likely reinstatement today from the bereavement list and Means’ return against the Rays in the next series. Also to be determined is how long it takes for the prospects at Triple-A to reappear or make their debuts.
“We’ve brought some guys here that are on the roster, young guys, that we’d like to see them have success in Triple-A,” Hyde said. “The Triple-A part is important and to spend time there for your development is important. We have brought some guys here already, realized that they do need some more Triple-A time, to pitch in the International League, to have some success, to get to the next step to get to the big leagues.
“And this is not (just) us. Around the league, everybody’s worried about innings and the amount of innings you have left in your season. We’re trying to get through with starters that haven’t given us a ton of length, which has been challenging. Now we’ve got to call up more guys that hopefully can get through innings. It’s hard, it’s hard. You would like to see our main prospects, our main guys, guys that we either added to the 40-man or guys that we will add to the 40-man over the next year or two have success in the minor leagues and continue their development and not come up here too early. I think that’s important.”