[Baltimore Sun] Orioles reset: The Kyle Bradish injury makes the Corbin Burnes addition even more important | ANALYSIS

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As he spoke, Bryan Baker practiced what he preached.

The Orioles have already lost two pitchers to season-ending injuries, and Kyle Bradish this weekend suffered an elbow injury that could be serious.

“It sucks,” Baker, a relief pitcher, said. “I feel for those guys because you know how much work they put into it.”

As he thought about the devastation that arm injuries present for pitchers, who work year-round for a few dozen chances to perform, Baker took 15 seconds to gather his thoughts, hold back his tears and finish his answer.

“We feel for ’em,” Baker said softly. “But you just got to keep moving.”

The news about Bradish — that he is on the 15-day injured list with a sprained elbow ligament, perhaps a harbinger for worse news to come — is gut-wrenching for the 27-year-old and a potential hindrance to Baltimore’s World Series aspirations. The severity of the sprain (technically a partial tear) to the right-hander’s ulnar collateral ligament is unknown, but the worst-case scenario involves going under the knife, missing the rest of 2024 and perhaps most of 2025.

For however long he’s out, Bradish’s absence means Baltimore’s rotation is less fearsome. But it also makes the Orioles’ acquisition for ace Corbin Burnes in the offseason all that more consequential.

Burnes proved Sunday — as he has all season — that he is the stabilizing force Baltimore needed this season, a quintessential big-game pitcher.

The stoic and sharp right-hander stymied the Philadelphia Phillies’ lineup Sunday. He went up against a fellow Cy Young Award contender in Zack Wheeler and outpitched him. For the Orioles to win their first World Series since 1983, they’ll need Burnes to outduel more aces in October.

“I love how competitive he is out on the mound,” manager Brandon Hyde said.

Corbin Burnes on Sunday became the sixth pitcher in Orioles history to record at least 10 straight quality starts in a season. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Burnes became the sixth pitcher in Orioles history to record at least 10 straight quality starts in a season. The most recent to do so was Jeremy Guthrie in 2007. Jim Palmer, naturally, holds the record with 12 in 1975.

The 29-year-old has pitched at least five innings and allowed three or fewer runs in all 15 of his starts this season — the second longest streak in Orioles history behind Chris Tillman, who did so 20 straight times in 2014.

“I’m just enjoying watching him pitch every fifth or sixth day,” Hyde said. “He’s just such a pro. Nobody sees the in between starts preparation, but what he puts into every start is incredible. He just knows how to pitch.”

Burnes might be why the Orioles still have a credible case to win a World Series despite losing Bradish, but his performance — about as stellar as the previous four seasons — isn’t a surprise. Instead, it’s the contributions from the likes of Cole Irvin and Albert Suárez that have helped fill the shoes of Tyler Wells, John Means and Bradish.

Behind Burnes, Irvin has been the Orioles’ most consistent starter with nine straight starts allowing three or fewer runs. And Suárez has gone from a camp curiosity to a stellar swingman with an impressive 1.61 ERA.

“I think this team’s special in a way that we’re always going to pick each other up,” said Grayson Rodriguez, a budding No. 1 starter with a 3.20 ERA. “We’ve always got each other’s back.”

Wells and Means will miss the remainder of the season after suffering UCL injuries that required surgery. Means, who received his second Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery earlier this month, said “baseball is beautiful and horrifying at the same time” when describing the rash of injuries to pitchers and the toll they take both physically and mentally.

“It is emotional because we love these players,” pitching coach Drew French said. “We love ‘em. They’re competitors, they’re warriors.

Anthony Santander, an Oriole since 2017, has been teammates with Means, Wells and Bradish for virtually their entire careers, and the right fielder said losing them is “painful.”

“We know what they can do to help us win games [but] that’s something that’s out of our hands,” Santander said. “We just need the next guy to step up and do the job and keep winning games.”

It’s possible, though, that all these injuries mean executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias will again dip into his deep prospect pipeline to acquire a starting pitcher at the deadline. Last year, the Orioles added Jack Flaherty for three prospects ranked between Nos. 13 and 16 in Baltimore’s organizational top 30. That addition didn’t work out, as Flaherty struggled and was moved to the bullpen, but Elias proved with the Burnes move that he can make contact with a big swing.

“You really get to see what guys are made of and if we have enough here or if we have to go get anything else,” closer Craig Kimbrel said of overcoming injuries. “I think that’s a question that a lot of people have when you do start having guys going down is if we’re going to be able to keep it rolling or will we need to get more. I think as long as we go out there and keep on playing good ball, I think all those questions will answer themselves.”

Entering the offseason, adding a starting pitcher was at the top of Elias’ wishlist. He checked in with the Milwaukee Brewers about Burnes the first opportunity he could in November, and the deal came to fruition on Feb. 1, giving up prospects Joey Ortiz and DL Hall to add the “absolute horse,” Elias called Burnes, to the top of his rotation.

During spring training, Elias said “anything you can say” about Burnes, “he does it for us.”

“He changes the whole complexion of our team,” Elias said.

That he has.

Corbin Burnes wasn’t a pitcher until he was a high school senior. He struggled as a freshman at a small D1. He earned his spot in the Cape by happenstance.

Burnes was never destined to be an ace. That fact is why he became one.

On the making of an ace: https://t.co/qPCcWJEbUM

— Jacob Calvin Meyer (@jcalvinmeyer) March 21, 2024

What’s to come?

Finally a day off before the biggest series of the season.

The Orioles deserve to sleep in Monday. Sunday marked the completion of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days in which Baltimore went 12-5 against the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves and Phillies. They’ll need the extra rest, too, before heading to New York for the biggest series of the season to date against the Yankees. The Orioles are 1 1/2 games behind the American League East-leading Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees have the starting pitching advantage for the three-game set with Nestor Cortes and Luis Gil facing Suárez and Irvin on Tuesday and Thursday. New York (50-24) has yet to announce a Wednesday starter, but it’s possible reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole makes his season debut opposite youngster Cade Povich.

The Orioles could head to Houston with a 1 1/2-game lead atop the division, a 4 1/2-game deficit or somewhere in between.

A sellout crowd stands as the Orioles’ Colton Cowser rounds the bases after hitting a two-run home run off Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler on Sunday at Camden Yards. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

What was good?

Two weeks ago, this section was dedicated to the improved attendance at Camden Yards. It’s even better now.

The total attendance for the Orioles’ three-game series this weekend versus the Phillies was 133,067 after three consecutive sellouts. The last time that many fans flocked to Camden Yards for a three-game series was July 2015 against the Washington Nationals (137,031). Through 39 home games this season, attendance at Oriole Park is up a whopping 35.2%.

Of course, Phillies fans made up a significant portion of the attendance this weekend. But it marked only the 13th time since 2006 that 40,000 fans have attended all three games of a series at Oriole Park. Seven came versus the Yankees, with two apiece against the Phillies, Boston Red Sox and Nationals.

Attendance at Camden Yards still isn’t as good as one would expect from a team on pace to win 100-plus games for a second straight year. But if this pace holds, Oriole Park will draw more than 2 million fans for the first time since 2017 and more than 2.5 million for the first time since 2005.

What wasn’t

This quote from Brewers pitcher Bryse Wilson about Ortiz: “I think the Orioles messed up, I’m not going to lie to you. Obviously, they get Corbin, but that’s a generational player right there.”

To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Wilson hyping up Ortiz, who is having a splendid campaign. Wilson provided a nice soundbite to gas up his teammate who is perhaps the best rookie position player in the National League.

But, to assess the quote from Wilson on its merits: No, the Orioles did not mess up. Deals like the one for Burnes will almost always see more value go to the seller than the buyer. In this case, the buyer needed an ace and didn’t have a clear spot to put Ortiz in the 2024 starting lineup. Ortiz and Hall will almost certainly accrue far more wins above replacement this decade than Burnes will for Baltimore in 2024.

But that does not matter. All that matters for the Orioles is that Burnes pitches like an ace, and he has.

On the farm

If Coby Mayo played a full season at High-A, he might hit 100 home runs. Thankfully for Mayo, the Orioles and High-A pitchers, that isn’t the case.

Mayo, who Baseball America rates as the Orioles’ No. 2 prospect, completed a rehabilitation assignment with Aberdeen this weekend, going 6-for-13 with three doubles and three home runs as he recovered from a fractured rib. The corner infielder will rejoin Triple-A Norfolk on Tuesday.

While his path to everyday at-bats in Baltimore is uncertain, he is back to being one call away.

Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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