Give a cerebral, young pitcher some time on his hands during quarantine baseball, with no games to play or spring training complex to report to, and he can do some unique and ultimately very productive things.
For Orioles right-hander Dean Kremer, starting last March, that meant taking his slider, which had always been a work in progress, and morphing it into more of a cut fastball. They are similar pitches, but the cutter is often thrown a bit harder and has the nice sharp and late break pitchers want if executed well.
While working out on his own before the sport returned later last summer, Kremer came up with a cutter he could execute. He already had a solid fastball and good curveball. This became a real weapon as a third pitch. Of those three last year, he produced his best whiff rate (swings divided by swings and misses) of 35.5 percent with the cutter. Opponents hit just .200 off the pitch.
The pitch was effective against both lefty batters, who hit .125 against it, and right-handers. While righty batters hit .286, they also swung and missed 47 percent of the time. It was in the small sample of four starts, but Kremer may have found a most reliable third pitch.
“So I always like tinkered with a slider, but could never really get a full slider to break as much as it needed to,” Kremer said during a Friday Zoom interview from Sarasota, Fla. “So during quarantine, while I was already built up, I figured I’d work on a cutter and try to keep it smaller and firmer. Just toyed around with release points and ended up turning out to be a pretty good pitch so far.”
Manager Brandon Hyde was impressed - but not surprised - that Kremer could alter his arsenal at home on his own without games.
“I think Dean just has a really good feel to pitch,” Hyde said. “And he understands himself very well. But he’s got a good feel to spin the baseball, whether it’s the breaking ball or the changeup. I think he’s got a really good feel for his delivery. And it’s pretty advanced. So him working on something, understanding what he needs to work on, and following through and getting it, I think that is not a surprise to me because I think he is a real student of pitching and student of pitch design, etc. So I was just so impressed him with that last month. Being able to make some adjustments he did in a short amount of time. Taking it into the offseason and working on some things. I think you’ll see him continue to get better and better.”
As he prepared for a 2021 season where he hopes to lock down a rotation spot, Kremer’s prep didn’t change just because he had reached the majors and had some success in 2020. He went 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his first three starts. After allowing seven runs in his last outing, his ERA ended up at 4.82 over four outings.
“To be honest, it really didn’t settle in. I felt just like a baseball player, trying to get better, continue to grow and try to stick up there,” he said.
Kremer also said he wasn’t going to focus on or concern himself much with all the early camp talk of limiting pitcher season innings totals after a 60-game season.
“It didn’t really effect anything that I did over the offseason,” he said. “It was a similar buildup going through my various phases through the offseason. That is probably one of the last things I will think about because although they are going to have strict limits, I think they are also going to ask how guys are feeling and (see) how they are performing. I think there’s going to be a bit of a longer leash than maybe they seem to say. But I don’t know, I’m not the coach.”
Kremer made the four starts last year, left-hander Keegan Akin made six and southpaw Bruce Zimmermann made one. They are the first wave of young pitchers to dent the rotation and Kremer fully expects they won’t be the last.
“For some guys, it’s timing, for some guys it’s stuff,” he said. “Just in general, I say keep your head down and keep working hard. Their time will eventually come.”
In 2019 at Double-A Bowie, Kremer was part of rotation that included Zimmermann, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and Michael Baumann. All five could be part of the rotation at some point this year in the bigs. From Bowie to Baltimore.
“It’s awesome. I mean, all those guys really worked hard throughout that year, ‘19. And what they did in ‘20 was also pretty good, from the standpoint of how much we actually could do,” Kremer said. “Yeah, it’s awesome seeing familiar faces. Guys that I’ve played almost a full season with as opposed to guys who I just barely met for a month or two (after the 2018 trade from the Dodgers).
“You can always learn from guys that have already been there and will continue to be there. But for the most part, I think the young guys are definitely hungry and they want to show what they’ve got.”
Kremer always gets asked about his “flow,” as he was yesterday. His hair game is still strong.
“Up until this point, I’ve had two haircuts a year. I get one right before spring training and I get one right when I go home,” he said. “This is actually the first time I let it get long before spring. We’ll see how much I can manage through the whole season.
“I’ve kind of had long hair for most of my post-high school life. It hasn’t been this long on a consistent basis. I don’t know - I’m from California. I kind of gotta look the part. You know, flips-flops and long hard, a necklace.”
Speaking of young pitchers: O’s prospect DL Hall posted a video via Twitter of a live batting practice session he has thrown. He is not currently at O’s camp, so it was not from Sarasota. Hall, who spent some time at the club’s alternate site at Bowie last summer, went 4-5 with a 3.46 ERA at Single-A Frederick when last seen at an affiliate in 2019.
A lefty taken in round one (No. 21 overall) in 2017, Hall has been ranked as a top 100 prospect by at least five outlets this year. He is No. 49 by The Athletic, No. 59 via Baseball America, No. 70 from MLBPipeline.com, No. 83 via FanGraphs.com and No. 99 by ESPN.
First live AB’s of the year. Felt so good to be back on the mound! Ready to get after it! #2021 pic.twitter.com/hiIvhMXbIn-- D.L. Hall (@dl_hall33) February 20, 2021