[Baltimore Sun] Orioles’ pitching staff motivated by ‘brotherly’ trash talk: ‘No one is safe’

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Grayson Rodriguez strutted off the mound after wrapping up one of the finest starts of his nascent major league career.

His 2024 debut was a sparkling effort. The sophomore fireballer tied his career high with nine strikeouts across six innings of one-run ball. The Camden Yards faithful gave him a standing ovation as he walked off, but he was met with a different tone once he descended into the Orioles’ dugout.

Days before the start, the members of Baltimore’s starting pitching staff were bantering about the most batters they’ve struck out in a game, with Rodriguez, one of the biggest trash talkers in the Orioles’ clubhouse, mentioning how he’d yet to reach double digits.

So, when Rodriguez entered the dugout, Corbin Burnes, who struck out 11 in the season opener, didn’t waste any time to remind Rodriguez he’d yet to achieve his goal.

“Hey, maybe next time,” Burnes quipped — a dig from Baltimore’s ace that stuck with Rodriguez, who commented after the game that the friendly repartee fuels him.

That type of banter is prevalent in the Orioles’ clubhouse, from position players to pitchers to coaches. But a pitching staff has a specific identity, and the Orioles’ is built on trash talk.

Burnes said it “creates competition” among the group that helps motivate one another. Keegan Akin said the way they joke with each other — ribbing Cole Irvin for his mullet or when Rodriguez or anyone else “does something dumb” — is in “brotherly love” fashion. Jacob Webb said the challenges of baseball puts all players in their place, so “having that humbleness from your teammates” is simply a way to keep things light before high-pressure moments on the mound.

“It’s a tough game already as it is,” Akin said. “You’ve got to have fun to make it in this game and stick for a long time.”

But one thing is clear about Baltimore’s trash talk culture.

“No one is safe,” Cole Irvin said. “It’s coming from everywhere.”

Orioles pitcher Corbin Burnes, right, said friendly trash talk “creates competition” among the pitching staff that helps motivate one another. (Kevin Richardson/Staff)

Let pitching coach Drew French serve as proof.

French, in his first season with the Orioles, made a mound visit during Tyler Wells’ first start of the season. Wells, who at 6-foot-8 stands a foot taller than French, was towering over his pitching coach even more than normal as Wells stood at the top of the pitching mound. The juxtaposition was stark — and hilarious — and someone in Baltimore’s clubhouse put a stool in French’s locker the next day as a joke.

“It had some tape on it that said, ‘French’s stool,’” French said with a laugh. “I don’t know who did it, but it was absolutely hilarious.”

There’s debate among the pitching staff about who the best trash talker among them is. Of course, Rodriguez doesn’t believe there’s any question.

“The best trash talker in the clubhouse?” he said, as if the question posed was an insult. “I’d like to think that’s me. None of these guys can get inside my head.”

Keegan Akin & Dillon Tate entered the game with three earned runs allowed between them. That number tripled Friday.

“I’ve got faith in Keegan and the rest of the bullpen more often than not,” Dean Kremer said. “We just came away on the wrong side today.” https://t.co/ejAf2pSIWE

— Jacob Calvin Meyer (@jcalvinmeyer) April 20, 2024

If Rodriguez had to pick someone else — he didn’t want to but reluctantly did so — he’d either take Akin, although there’s one pitcher who “gets under my skin constantly,” Rodriguez said.

“[Kyle] Bradish is a sneaky one,” he said.

Naturally, when pitchers learned Rodriguez chose himself, they didn’t want to agree, choosing anyone but the 24-year-old.

“Of course he’s going to be the self-proclaimed one,” Irvin said. “He’s from Texas, he’s always going to be talking crap.”

“I don’t want to give him the credit,” Akin said. “I don’t want to feed that ego.”

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Irvin offered left-hander Danny Coulombe as the best jokester in the clubhouse, but Webb said “Danny is on the nicer side of trash talking.” If Irvin had to pick a starter, he’d go with Dean Kremer.

“He’s low key,” Irvin said. “I’m not going to give Grayson the credit. The fact that he said himself, that means I’m going with Dean.”

Webb said Kremer is a good choice, although the latter’s intellectual style might not be for everyone.

“It might go over your head,” Webb said with a laugh.

French, who joined the Orioles from the Atlanta Braves, said the joking camaraderie the Orioles have is a “pillar” of Hyde’s philosophy.

“It’s in our DNA now because it’s what the skipper likes,” French said.

Like French, Burnes entered a new atmosphere this spring after spending his entire professional career with the Milwaukee Brewers. He said it took him about a week to learn how the Orioles’ pitching staff communicates, and he didn’t waste much time showing Rodriguez and the rest that he’s able to mix it up, too.

“I’m obviously the old guy,” said Burnes, who is 29 years old. “I’m pretty quiet. I like to keep to myself and go through my routine. But I’ll drop some stuff on you every now and then.”

Rodriguez, meanwhile, is someone “who responds to a spicier approach,” veteran catcher James McCann said, noting he often tries to light a fire under the youngster to get him to pitch at his best.

Trash talk aside, Rodriguez recognizes the way Burnes, one of baseball’s best and a former Cy Young Award winner, pitches will elevate the rest of the Orioles’ staff.

“To have somebody of that caliber set the bar for us and for us to chase it, it’s pretty special for us,” Rodriguez said. “He’s going to go out and do it, and we have to try to emulate that.”

Rodriguez, who starts Sunday against the Kansas City Royals, acknowledged it’s not easy to tease Burnes given the ace’s success in the big leagues and so far this season.

“But I’m sure I’ll get him at some point,” Rodriguez said.

Burnes has no doubt it’ll happen soon.

“Hopefully next time he goes out he punches out 10,” Burnes said. “And I know if he does the first thing he’ll do is come in and give it to me.”

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