Albert Suárez specifically remade one pitch to get to this moment, beginning in a Florida pitching facility and honed on two continents, all with the goal of returning to a big league mound.

So when Suárez debuted with the Orioles, he wasn’t going to mess around with anything else. Suárez threw 10 straight fastballs to begin his first major league outing since 2017 and set the Twins down in order. He’s resolved to go down with his best pitch ever since.

“I like the challenge,” Suárez told me. “Every hitter is trying to hit for power and hit the fastball, so I’m like, ‘OK, here’s my fastball. Hit it.’ I know if I locate the fastball, it’s going to be hard to get hard contact. That’s what I’m focused on. … You read the hitters, and keep throwing it.”

Suárez, a minor league free agent who has filled a hole in the Orioles’ rotation after spending the previous five seasons pitching in Japan and Korea (and a stint in the Venezuelan winter league), has proven so valuable to the Orioles largely thanks to that pitch.

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Of the 127 major league pitchers with at least 750 pitches thrown this season, just 12 have thrown their four-seamer more often than Suárez’s 53.6%. Opponents are hitting .241 on the pitch, and his success with it goes beyond how hard he throws it (95 mph, on average) or how it moves.

“Being able to know where the zones are for big league hitters that he needs to get to is what separates it,” assistant pitching coach Mitch Plassmeyer said. “He just gets to zones more often than most guys.”

If the game plan is to attack a hitter inside — and Plassmeyer said Suárez uses his fastball inside better than most — “he starts on the inner third and works himself to the black and in,” he said. If the attack plan calls for elevated fastballs, he’ll inch it a bit higher each time.

“That kind of fine command, being able to walk it a little more in or walk it a little more up, some hitters aren’t used to it,” Plassmeyer said. “Right now, you see a lot of guys go to the spin. They get a foul ball on the heater, they go to the spin. He just makes a better-executed pitch with the heater right after that.”

Locating his fastballs is important, considering its traits. A well-thrown four-seam fastball is effective at the top of the strike zone because it appears to defy gravity and not drop on its way to home plate. Suárez could always locate the pitch, but decided while he was abroad to effectively hack the modern-day pitching system to come back to the U.S. by engineering fastballs — and secondary pitches — to appear more attractive on a computer screen.

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His offseason work before the 2023 season at Cressey Sports Performance in Florida helped him improve the spin and consistency of his four-seam fastball, as well as his cutter and change-up, so that if a team pulled up his TrackMan pitch metrics, they’d say “everything looks like this guy can pitch in the big leagues,” Suárez said.

He said it was mostly grip alterations, with a slight change in his delivery. There doesn’t appear to be a meaningful change in his fastball spin rate from 2022 to 2023, but the pitch now has very high active spin (which is a measure of spin that contributes to movement), suggesting he has increased his efficiency with the pitch. The most meaningful difference manifested in his extension. Suárez’s delivery tweak resulted in him adding around 6 inches of extension, and releasing the ball closer to home plate allows pitches to get on hitters more quickly.

That’s what it looked like when the Orioles’ pro scouting department dug in on him last summer.

The Orioles learned when he went to Sarasota last year after signing in September that Suárez views every outing as a challenge, trying to see how many pitches he can execute in the best location possible. His consistency in being able to locate his four-seamer where he wants to at the top of the zone has served to open up the rest of his arsenal this year and made Suárez one of the best stories in the game so far.

It all started with enhancing his fastball shape. As teams get to know him more, he may need to lean on other pitches to sustain what’s been an impressive start to the season; he enters Tuesday’s series opener against the Yankees with a 1.61 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 44 2/3 innings.

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Until then, it will continue to be based off a pitch that Suárez sheepishly admits is a fun one to throw.

Plassmeyer said: “He’s had some success just having the mentality of, ‘I’m going to establish the fastball, and once you show me you’re able to put it in play, then we’ll deviate.’”


“Those are usually ownership-driven decisions.”

— MLB superagent Scott Boras to Andy Kostka, speaking about the moves that make championship teams

This was a fascinating read from my guy Andy, and this nugget is the most salient to me. The kinds of moves Boras is talking about — the massive, top-of-the-market free agent deals, mostly, but also the big trade-deadline swings to a lesser extent — need to come from the absolute top of an organization, given the financial commitments and long-term ramifications. The best ones are made in conjunction with baseball operations leaders, and the worst ones are usually completed above their heads. New Orioles control person David Rubenstein inherited a front office that he believes is the best in the game. We know front office staff are doing a good job because Rubenstein’s predecessor gave them a small budget and left them alone. I can’t wait to see how they navigate a world where those ownership-driven decisions to take the next competitive step are actually possible.

The talent pipeline

Billy Cook was one of the breakout prospects on the Orioles’ farm last year, so it was surprising to see him shuffled back to Double-A Bowie early this season. Now back at Triple-A Norfolk and playing every day, Cook just continues to hit. The 25-year-old homered in three straight games to end last week, and has a 1.095 OPS with five home runs in June to bring his season OPS to .854 between Bowie and Norfolk.

By the numbers


Since Austin Hays returned from the injured list with his calf injury on May 15, he has a .934 OPS, which is better than all but 17 of the 266 players with at least 60 plate appearances since then. His wRC+ of 165 is 14th-best in baseball in that span. It was obvious Hays wasn’t himself early in the season due to the impact of his multiple illnesses, and the hot start of Colton Cowser created an awkward situation for him and the Orioles. It felt obvious that Hays would get himself going eventually, and now that he is, the Orioles are back to having more good outfielders than they can start every night

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For further reading

What’s the beef? I honestly don’t know what to make of the Joey Ortiz discourse that Brewers pitcher Bryse Wilson started this weekend and Kyle Goon dove into very well this morning. Here’s what I’ll say: The Orioles knew exactly what they were giving up in Ortiz at the time. It was painful for a lot of people in the organization, and the best way to describe the transaction is they made a massive addition in Corbin Burnes at a massive cost. All judgements reserved until October gets here. (The Baltimore Banner)

Means’ future with the Orioles: Danielle Allentuck’s look at what John Means meant to the rebuilding-era Orioles took me down the rabbit hole, for sure. The 2019-2021 Orioles were going to take any good player they could get, and he was a cut above that whole time. They had a chance to win when he pitched. There was a much smaller chance the other four days. (The Baltimore Banner)