It was September 2020 and the shortened 60-game season was nearing its end. On Sept. 6, right-hander Dean Kremer, a key player in the Orioles’ trade of Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers, made his major league debut. It went quite well.
Over six innings he gave up just one run and one hit versus the New York Yankees as he got his first big league win and the Orioles beat New York, 5-1. Six days later he faced the same team and allowed just one run on five hits. A few days later he faced Tampa Bay, allowing one run in five innings.
That was a pretty good start to his major league career against a Yankees team that went 33-27 and a Rays team that was 40-20 during the regular season. Through three major league starts, he had an ERA of 1.69, opponent average against of .145 and had fanned 20 over 16 innings. His last start that year saw him allow seven runs versus Boston and he finished with a 4.82 ERA in four starts, which was still near the American League average ERA.
There were hopes that Kremer had the quality pitch mix and smarts to help the O’s rotation. The early success within the American League East was encouraging, to say the least. But just as we have pointed out that a rough first 40 or 50 innings for a pitcher at the major league level doesn’t mean it will be that way forever, Kremer’s first three starts didn’t carry over into last year.
It got rough for him from the start of the new season.
He allowed seven runs over six innings his first two starts and by the end of April, Kremer, who turned 26 yesterday, was 0-2 with an 8.40 ERA in four starts. Quite different from the pitcher we had seen late in 2020.
In three stints on the Baltimore roster last season he went 0-7 with a 7.55 ERA in 13 starts, and the Orioles were 3-10 in those games. He went 4 2/3 innings or less in eight of his 13 starts. He had an ERA of 7.71 at home and 7.33 on the road.
Since he won in his big league debut, he has gone winless in his past 16 starts, dating to the end of 2020. Kremer is one of four Orioles starters to go winless through his first 13 starts of a season, and the first since Gabriel Ynoa went 0-9 over 13 starts in the 2019 season. His 16-game winless streak is tied for the fourth-longest among all major league starters.
Middle-of-the-order hitters cleaned up against the right-hander last year. No. 3 hitters posted a 1.405 OPS against him, while cleanup hitters were at 1.195 and No. 5 hitters at 1.135.
The Kremer that once led the minors in strikeouts and looked so promising at the end of 2020 has to now enter Florida next spring and make not just a little improvement but vast improvement. His confidence had to take a hit during his struggles. In fairness to Kremer, he did finally start to put a few things together very late in the 2021 season with Triple-A Norfolk. He posted an overall 4.91 ERA with the Tides in 62 1/3 innings, but he allowed one or zero runs in four of his last five starts. It was, perhaps, the start of something better for him.
Kremer showed a slider/cutter in 2020 that was a real swing-and-miss weapon, but it didn’t have the same effectiveness last year. Opponent batters posted a .370 slugging percentage off Kremer’s fastball in 2020, and that number was .581 in 2021. Batters slugged .300 versus his 2020 curveball but .584 last year.
Despite all this, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias expressed confidence in Kremer during an interview in October on the “Inside the Yard” podcast. Elias pointed out that Kremer’s career sample size of innings is still small.
“We like him and he’s very much in our future plans,” Elias said then. “He’s got a starter’s pitch mix, he’s got a good delivery. He’s had some very good starts and some very rough starts in the majors. He’s still learning a lot about using his pitch mix. And I think being trusting of his stuff and attacking and not nibbling with it, which we saw him doing a lot this year. He’s been working on that and he knows that. But I guess what I’m pointing out is, pitchers like him, it’s more common than not that their first go-around in the majors looks like this.
“You know, we were playing Boston, for example. And Nick Pivetta, you look at his stats the last couple of years. He had a rough time in the big leagues, but he’s starting to figure it out. And there were some underlying indicators that it was going to happen with his strikeout numbers and his walk totals and his minor league numbers. And Dean Kremer has all that going for him as well, so I think he has a bright future. We will keep working with him and I think these guys will continue to get better.”
The expectations for Kremer, after his ‘21 struggles, will clearly be very different when next season begins. Now he has to earn his way both onto the roster and into the rotation. He’s a candidate for both, but he’s got to show it more consistently on the mound.