SARASOTA, Fla. — The fact that Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias sought him out this offseason, then parted with a prospect to get him, doesn’t change the way Cole Irvin views his place in this organization.

The left-hander, acquired this winter in a trade with the Oakland Athletics, is well aware of the option remaining in his contract, that looming reminder that he can be sent to the minor leagues without passing through waivers.

“There’s a lot of talent here,” Irvin said Wednesday after his first spring training start for his new club, a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. “My job is never going to be secure.”

Even at 29, Irvin is used to that arrangement. For the Philadelphia Phillies, he was an infrequent participant and mostly out of the bullpen. Once he was traded to Oakland, it took an injury before a spot in the starting rotation opened for Irvin to solidify his place — and then go on to become one of the top workhorses in baseball, starting at least 30 games in consecutive seasons.

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Cole Irvin (19) delivers a pitch at Ed Smith Stadium during the first inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 1, 2023. The Baltimore Orioles narrowly avoided a no-hitter in their 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the Florida Grapefruit League. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The trade to Baltimore reset his status in the clubhouse, however, and when he walks into the room of talented — although younger — players, Irvin leans on what he learned in Oakland. Back then, established major leaguers such as Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea taught Irvin to not lose his personality, even when focusing on hard work.

“That’s kind of allowed me to come into camp here, being who I am, not kind of hiding anything,” Irvin said. “Just going into camp, free and easy, having fun. Just being myself and getting outs.”

Irvin got the six outs he needed Wednesday, allowing a bloop single and a walk between two scoreless innings. He said he got away with some “bad pitches,” but with the calendar only now turning to March, Irvin was more heartened by how crisp his slider and curveball felt.

Cole Irvin (19) smiles as he walks back to the dugout at Ed Smith Stadium after the top of the second inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 1, 2023. The Baltimore Orioles narrowly avoided a no-hitter in their 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the Florida Grapefruit League. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The former fifth-round pick of the University of Oregon threw 27 pitches in two innings and closed out his afternoon on the bullpen mound to get his count to 40 pitches. He’s the latest in a string of starting candidates to appear this spring, with right-hander Austin Voth following him. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez throws Thursday; right-handers Kyle Gibson and Dean Kremer pitch Friday.

In all, there are 12 rotation candidates, Elias said, although some may be on more of an inside track than others. Right-hander Kyle Bradish, for instance, excelled over the last 13 starts of his rookie year, and a flawless two innings Tuesday were a positive start to 2023.

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But that success doesn’t guarantee Bradish a starting role, just as Irvin’s 3.98 ERA over 181 innings last season for the Athletics does not ensure one.

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Bradish (39) delivers a pitch at LECOM Park during the first inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Feb. 28, 2023. The Baltimore Orioles traveled to Bradenton on Tuesday as part of the Florida Grapefruit League during their spring training session. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

“I love the year he had, with the strike-throwing ability in Oakland,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s shown that he can eat innings in the big leagues with really good command. Not having that many lefties, that’s an added bonus.”

Still, “he’s another starting candidate for us,” Hyde said. Not a lock — a candidate.

That’s why, when Irvin looks around, he doesn’t count on a place in the rotation reserved for himself.

“I’m still kind of earning my way in the major leagues,” Irvin said. “I’ve got to earn the respect of my teammates, earn the respect of the guys who were here before me. That’s my job, and I’m just going to keep my head down, work on what I’m going to work on and let the spring training results take care of themselves.”

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A quiet day for the bats

Offense in spring training is difficult to measure. At times, the explosive showings can be the result of the minor-league talent on the mound for the opposing team. At others, the lack of much production can come due to the mix-and-match nature of early spring games, when Hyde rotates his players more frequently.

The crowd at Ed Smith Stadium had to wait until there was one out in the ninth inning for backup first base candidate Lewin Díaz to lash a single to right field for Baltimore’s first hit of the game on Wednesday. Díaz scored a batter later when outfielder Heston Kjerstad drove a ball to right-center field.

Lewin Díaz (28) celebrates with Josh Lester (92) after scoring at Ed Smith Stadium during the ninth inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 1, 2023. The Baltimore Orioles narrowly avoided a no-hitter in their 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the Florida Grapefruit League. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

For Díaz, gunning for a place on the team when camp breaks at the end of this month, it was his fourth hit in eight spring training at-bats, giving him a 1.681 on-base-plus-slugging percentage over that tiny sample size.

“We did a pretty good job on the mound. It was nice to see us throw more strikes than we had thrown the last few days,” Hyde said. “We just didn’t get anything going offensively. Give those guys credit. I thought they threw the ball well. Just not much offense.”

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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