Orioles starter Cole Irvin found a clue that may fix his control issues in time to face his former team

Published 4/13/2023 5:30 a.m. EDT, Updated 4/13/2023 9:32 a.m. EDT

Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman meets with starting pitcher Cole Irvin (19) on the mound during the fourth inning of an baseball game against the New York Yankees, Friday, April 7, 2023, in Baltimore.

As it turns out, the timing of when Cole Irvin changed his phone number was less than ideal.

He did it a few days before his offseason was turned upside down, when the Oakland Athletics traded him and a minor league relief pitcher to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for an infield prospect. Irvin wanted to reach out to his friends on the Athletics, to tell them how much his time in Oakland meant and how they would remain close, even on an opposite coast.

But Irvin lost many of the numbers in the transfer, and some of his old teammates found themselves texting a number that was no longer active.

“A lot of those guys were texting me thinking I was big leaguing them,” Irvin said.

Irvin had the chance to explain himself to them all over the past three days, reconnecting with the friends he made during his two seasons with the Athletics — while assuring some he didn’t simply ignore their texts. He’s scheduled to face them on the mound later today for his new team, in a place and with an organization he’s rapidly learning to love as much as he enjoyed Oakland.

The Orioles left-handed pitcher, acquired to bolster the club’s rotation this winter, is still finding his way for Baltimore. He scuffled at times in his first two starts. But before facing the team with whom he became an established big league pitcher, Irvin feels as though he’s found the solution to the uncharacteristic command issues that have cropped up early in his time with the Orioles.

It all comes down to his left foot.

“The foot starts the whole delivery,” Irvin said. “When you break down anyone’s delivery, it starts with the back foot. Is it stable, is it strong, is it moving? So we made some adjustments coming into the week and felt really good. It’s just another small adjustment, and again, we’re not far off.”

When Irvin dove into film of his start against the New York Yankees last week, he slowed down multiple camera angles. His mechanics felt solid. The ball leaped out of his hand, rising to around 95 mph — a tick faster than his baseline velocity. And yet he walked four Yankees batters and allowed three runs, with many of his pitches missing arm-side to the left.

In that sense, it wasn’t a disastrous outing. But those walks irked Irvin, preventing him from eating the innings he knows he can; with the Athletics, for instance, Irvin threw 178 1/3 innings in 2021 and 181 frames last year.

He’s felt off somehow this year, though, and kept searching for a possible reason.

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But then Irvin found it. He keeps careful notes on each start and bullpen session in what he calls his “black book.” The notebook, which he began using during his time with the Athletics, highlights mainly the positives from each outing. He had flipped through and noticed a line from his final spring training start, when he emphasized how well his push-off felt. His center of balance was on the arch of his foot, not the toes, as it had been during his start against the Yankees.

And by watching film, he confirmed his suspicion, and then worked to reestablish his drive from the arch of his foot. With it, he’ll find better balance to keep his front shoulder closed for longer in the delivery, avoiding an instance where he’s flying open too early and missing spots with his pitches.

“I want to feel like I can drag that as long as I can, but in the direction I’m going,” Irvin said. “I had to go back to my black book to remind myself that, ‘Hey, that’s your cue.’ And that’s all the adjustment is, is really just something small like that. That ultimately led to four walks.”

Before last week, Irvin had only walked four batters in a game twice in 62 starts for the Athletics. He prides himself on his command, making up for his lack of velocity with guile and a creative pitch mix.

Irvin learned much of that in Oakland, under a coaching staff he still keeps in contact with and with teammates he credits for teaching him the nuance of becoming a seasoned major leaguer. On Thursday, he’ll use those traits against his old team, hoping to correct his early struggles against an organization he’ll always appreciate.

When Irvin moved to Baltimore, part of what he missed most about Oakland was the routine he had developed at home. But Irvin knows he’s settled in once he doesn’t need to use a navigation system to get to the ballpark or around the city, and he crossed that bridge Monday, the day his former teammates arrived in town to begin this four-game series.

Baltimore was new until it wasn’t.

“I love this team, I love where we’re at, I love the energy in the dugout,” Irvin said. “But I will always have a special place in my heart for Oakland.”