True story: When Dean Kremer arrived in the Orioles organization, I was one of the first people to meet him.

I was in Bowie manager Gary Kendall’s office for an interview when four of the players acquired from the Dodgers in the July 2018 trade of Manny Machado arrived from the airport. Given they were all fine upstanding young men, they went around the room for handshakes and had no choice but to include me in that.

So, there’s some background here between he and I. It’s quite possible he has been unhappy with me in the ensuing six years, as is probably the case with many players in the Orioles clubhouse past or present, but we seem on relative good terms.

Which makes it strange that I chased him almost a month trying to get to the bottom of the pitch he replaced his change-up with this season. Kremer doesn’t consider it a big deal, as both it and every other pitch in his arsenal are constant works in progress and it’s really day-dependent on how much or effectively he uses it.

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It has the potential, though, to grow into much more than that: a true swing-and-miss offering for a pitcher who, while successful in his Orioles career to this point, has felt like he’s searching for one. This new pitch could be a weapon that can be effective against both righties and lefties, which is part of the reason the Orioles organization philosophically favors the pitch.

It took the allowance from Kremer that the pitch was different than years past to proceed with this column. Considering it was evident as he threw a spring training bullpen and the split-finger grip he used was visually obvious from my vantage point, and Statcast now classifies the pitch as a split-finger fastball, it might not have been necessary.

So, whether it’s a true splitter or a split-change variant, we’ll call it a splitter from here on out. And so far, Kremer’s splitter has been good.

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Dean Kremer (64) delivers a pitch in a game against the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards on April 1. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Through three starts, he’s thrown the pitch 15.3% of the time, allowing no hits. Opponents have swung at it 20 times and whiffed on eight of those, four of which resulted in strikeouts. Per Statcast, the expected batting average on Kremer’s splitter when it’s put in play is .162, with a similarly low expected slugging percentage.

In a very limited sample, the pitch has a bit more vertical depth and a bit less horizontal break than your league-average splitter, and comes in a few miles per hour slower. It replaces a change-up that had grown in use in Kremer’s arsenal since his debut in 2020, when he threw it just a handful of times. In the three seasons since, his change-up represented 7.5%, 15.4%, and 12.3% of his pitches, respectively.

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Kremer’s cluster of fastballs — his four-seam fastball, sinker, and cutter — represent the bulk of his arsenal still, though at 67.4% of his total pitches this year, he’s using them less often than the 75.5% combined utilization last year.

This new offering gives Kremer a good bit of upside, which he and the Orioles rotation could use. That’s not to say some didn’t exist before. He has established himself over the last two-plus years as a reliable mid-to-backend rotation starter. Though he also finished last year with a 3.25 ERA in the second half, the expected stats didn’t back that up.

Part of that comes from Kremer’s lack of strikeouts relative to the top starters in the league. He struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings in 2023, which was 72nd out of 117 starters with at least 100 innings. A year earlier, his 6.3 strikeouts per nine ranked 113th out of 124 such pitchers.

Instead of strikeouts, he’s used a five-pitch mix consistently in and around the strike zone to generate contact and let the defense do the work. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Kremer still had a decent 11.5% swinging strike rate overall last year.

When it’s working the way Kremer wants it to, the splitter has the potential to boost those whiff and strikeout numbers. Even if it doesn’t, hard contact is rare on the splitter across MLB; league-wide, hitters had a .198 average, a .317 slugging percentage, and a 34.8% whiff rate on the pitch last year.

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Perhaps it’s expectation management on Kremer’s part, as hyping a pitch he only recently added to his arsenal and is still trying to master is dangerous business. It’s also dependent on matchups and how the pitch is working on a given day. He threw eight in his first start and got two field outs on the pitch. Three of his four strikeouts on the pitch came in his second start, when he threw it 22 times. He threw just 10 the next time out.

At its best, though, the pitch gives Kremer an added dimension for both lefties and righties to consider. Evolving as a pitcher is how starters in a career state like Kremer’s can stay on the front foot and stay ahead of hitters. Kremer has continually shown he can do that in his career. This new pitch has the potential to be the most impactful example of that yet.

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

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