[Baltimore Sun] While the Yankees’ rotation gets stronger, the Orioles’ is showing cracks | ANALYSIS

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NEW YORK — The juxtaposition couldn’t have been more poignant.

The day Kyle Bradish, the Orioles’ ace last year, underwent elbow surgery to end his campaign, Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ ace, returned to make his season debut. The two had been linked during spring training — two of the American League’s best, both out for the beginning of the season with elbow injuries.

Bradish returned first, but he won’t step on a big league mound for over a year after receiving Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery Wednesday. Cole, meanwhile, is sliding back into a Yankees rotation that was already one of baseball’s best.

Cade Povich held his own Wednesday (after Albert Suárez didn’t Tuesday), and Cole only pitched four innings as he builds back up. But as Baltimore and New York jockey for positioning in the AL East, it appears the area the Orioles are hurting most might soon become the Yankees’ strength.

The Yankees’ rotation, with Cole out front, has the potential to be the majors’ best — one capable of carrying the Bronx Bombers to their 28th championship. The Orioles’ starting corps, with Bradish, John Means and Tyler Wells out for the season, is still good enough to lead this team to the playoffs, but whether it can help Baltimore overtake the Yankees or lead the club to its first World Series since 1983 is more in doubt now than at any point this year.

“Injuries are a part of the game,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Obviously, we feel terrible for the guys that are hurt. They’re friends, they’re teammates, we know their families. It’s a very, very hard thing.”

After spending the past two seasons as one of the majors’ healthiest teams, the Orioles haven’t had the same good luck this year. They’ve had seven pitchers — five starters, two relievers — spend time on the injured list, and the bad news reached a crescendo Wednesday.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias announced before Wednesday’s win at Yankee Stadium that Bradish and reliever Danny Coulombe underwent elbow surgery this week. Coulombe won’t be out for the year after undergoing bone chip removal surgery and could return in September, but any procedure on a pitcher’s elbow is serious.

That makes four Orioles pitchers to go under the knife in the past 17 days, joining Means and Wells. Means underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time of his career June 3, while Wells had his UCL repaired Monday, opting for the new internal brace procedure that could lead to a quicker recovery.

“It obviously stinks hearing that,” Povich said after he pitched 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball Wednesday. “It sucks.”

“This is a huge blow.”

On the fallout from Kyle Bradish’s season-ending Tommy John surgery, Danny Coulombe and when he could be expected back and what this means for the Orioles and their pitching staff: https://t.co/Gwb7P4g50S

— Jacob Calvin Meyer (@jcalvinmeyer) June 19, 2024

“It’s tough whenever you lose a member of the team,” reliever Dillon Tate said. “Those are valuable guys. They’ll be missed.”

Cole, who posted a 2.63 ERA with 222 strikeouts in 209 innings last year, takes New York’s rotation to the next level, but he’s just one of many excellent arms that makes the Yankees’ starting corps an embarrassment of riches. New York’s 2.87 rotation ERA leads the majors.

Nestor Cortes started opening day with Cole out, and the left-hander has a 3.36 ERA. The Orioles needn’t any reminders of Cortes’ bona fides, especially after his latest stellar start versus Baltimore on Tuesday with six shutout innings.

Luis Gil has been New York’s best starter with a sparkling 2.03 ERA — better than the mark owned by Orioles ace Corbin Burnes. Gil, who’s allowed only 39 hits in 80 innings, is the front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award and is a candidate for the AL Cy Young. The Orioles face Gil in Thursday’s rubber match.

Carlos Rodón, a top-six NL Cy Young Award finisher in 2021 and 2022 with the San Francisco Giants, is enjoying a bounce-back season after his injury-hampered 2023 campaign. The southpaw sports a 9-3 record and a 3.28 ERA. Marcus Stroman, a free agent addition this offseason, is paying off with a 3.08 ERA.

The scary part is that New York’s rotation could get even better, as Clarke Schmidt, who was having a career year with a 2.52 ERA, could return later this season after recovering from his lat muscle injury.

This isn’t to say, of course, that Baltimore’s rotation is a weakness. The Orioles rotation’s 3.02 ERA ranks third in the majors. Take away Bradish, Means and Wells, and that number drops to 2.92.

“For our team with young pitchers and a lot of guys that are former waiver claims, this group’s really scrappy mentality and really strong competitors,” Elias said. “I believe, even after these injuries, that our pitching staff is a strength for this team, relatively speaking.”

Burnes is a legitimate ace and is a Cy Young finalist once again with a 2.14 ERA. He’s pitched 10 straight quality starts — becoming one of the few hurlers in Orioles history to do so — and has allowed three runs or fewer in all 15 of his outings to begin his career in Baltimore after the club acquired him this offseason.

Grayson Rodriguez is a qualified No. 2 starter behind Burnes, as the sophomore fireballer has won eight of his 12 starts with a 3.20 ERA. Cole Irvin has bounced back after an up-and-down 2023 to post a 3.03 ERA as the club’s second-most consistent starter behind Burnes. Dean Kremer, who will likely soon return from the IL, is in his third straight season as a reliable starter.

Suárez struggled Tuesday in an intense and raucous environment, but he still owns a 2.05 ERA in 48 1/3 innings as one of baseball’s biggest surprises this season. And Povich, the club’s top pitching prospect, has started three games in his nascent MLB career, and has impressed in different ways each time.

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“We’ve got a great team defensively and at the plate,” Povich said, “so it’s my job to just try and step up and get outs and put the team in the best position possible to get wins.”

Speaking of midseason help, how serious is Elias about doing just that? Only he knows, and he isn’t showing his cards. Last year, the Orioles traded three prospects ranked inside the organization’s top 20 — but outside its top 10 — for Jack Flaherty. The addition didn’t help, as Flaherty struggled with a 6.75 ERA and was relegated to the bullpen.

“I’ve got a sense of urgency to win baseball games, and part of that is just taking care of the whole organization,” Elias said when asked about his approach to the trade deadline. “I think it would have been pretty naive to think that the injury number would be zero, especially with some of these guys coming into camp banged up. So this isn’t coming out of left field because of that.

“It’s so complicated. It’s just kind of hard for me to make sweeping statements and opine about it, especially in June. But we have, what I think, is a really good, hard-working front office, and we’re going to do our job.”

Hyde is impressed with how his team, especially his pitching staff, has mentally and emotionally handled this month as bad injury news has followed the club like a black cloud. Since Means injured his elbow in late May, the Orioles have gone 19-7. Despite the injuries, they’re on pace to win 106 games.

“The game doesn’t stop for you,” Hyde said. “We keep playing.”

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