Kyle Bradish is alone on the mound every fifth game for the Orioles, so while he is quick to credit his mates and the Orioles’ pitching coaches for helping him grow into the success story he’s become atop their rotation, he’s the one making the pitches. Now more than ever, he believes in them — and with good reason.
Take his most recent home start against the Miami Marlins, protecting a 3-0 lead with two on and two out in the third inning against slugger Jorge Soler. The massive righty passed on Bradish’s slider several times to work the count full, and Bradish shook off catcher James McCann to get to his curveball — which he hadn’t thrown all game.
Soler swung through the pitch, high and inside, to end Miami’s threat.
“Last year, I might not have had the confidence to throw a 3-2 breaking ball right there,” Bradish told me. “This year, the confidence in all my off-speed, to throw it for a strike whenever I need to, is kind of the difference-maker, not having to rely on a fastball to get back in the count.”
If Bradish can point to one aspect of his game that’s driving his success this year, that’s it. And the first-place Orioles are benefiting from it in a significant way.
“I think my mentality is just even better than what it was in the second half,” Bradish said. I feel more confident in challenging hitters. I’m still getting to know what kind of pitcher I am, and what pitcher I want to be, and forming those two together with where my stuff’s at that day — not trying to go throw 98 [mph] when it’s not in there right now. Sometimes, you’ve just got to spin guys, or attack hitters with a plan. That’s the biggest one.”
That process of learning and growth may be ongoing, yet the current results make Bradish one of the Orioles rebuild’s brightest success stories. Acquired after a down year on the Angels’ farm as part of a four-player return for Dylan Bundy in December 2019, Bradish gained buzz at the Orioles’ alternate training site during the pandemic in 2020, performed well in the high minors in 2021, and spent most of last year in their rotation after debuting in late April.
It wasn’t all good, though. He had 10 starts before going on the injured list with shoulder soreness.
“I maybe had two good ones, then got hurt, and I was very caught up in what people were saying about me: Do I belong here?” Bradish said. “All the stuff like that, that’s just not good if you’re trying to compete and help this team win.”
He returned with a better understanding of what worked for him, both in his routine and in his mental preparation for games. A switch in which side of the pitching rubber he stood on late last season helped, and he’s been among the best pitchers in baseball over the past calendar year.
In 168 2/3 innings over 31 starts since coming off the IL last July 29, Bradish has a 3.15 ERA — tied for eighth-best among qualified starters in that span. It’s backed up by a 3.61 FIP (fielding-independent pitching), an ERA based on the things he can control: home runs, strikeouts, and walks. He has a 1.14 WHIP in that span, and by ERA-, which adjusts for league and park conditions where each point above or below 100 represents one percentage point better or worse than league average, his 77 is 10th-best among qualifiers.
Tyler Wells, who has solidified himself in the Orioles’ rotation over the same period, believes Bradish’s mentality has driven his consistency. But he also credits Bradish for his openness to listen and learn from those around him without losing sight of who he is. Both Wells and Bradish point to veteran right-hander Kyle Gibson’s influence on helping the less experienced pitchers on the team learn how to build attack plans for hitters.
“He’s taken an old-school approach and a new-school approach, and using the analytics to his advantage while still learning the old-school way of it,” Wells said of Bradish.
Added Bradish: “You may think you’re at the highest level, but there’s always stuff that you can learn. Whether it’s the metrics and shape of a pitch, or just going out there and attacking guys with a plan, I take all of it with open ears.”
From pitching coach Chris Holt’s perspective, no matter the influences around Bradish, it all comes down to the pitcher’s own efforts to create a foundation for success for himself. Holt particularly focused on Bradish’s own efforts to improve his consistency on all fronts, from his routine and preparation to his delivery and understanding of his own arsenal.
“We come back to the focus of command, the difference between trying to chase after ideal pitch shapes all the time versus commanding the ones that we know we are routinely getting to. That’s been a huge focus for him. He’s also done excellent work with getting consistency with his delivery, so that command is something that is accessible to him from outing to outing with all pitch types.
“There’s always going to be work to be done. We’re still all getting better every day, and so long as that stays our mindset, he stays right there. When it comes to competitiveness, there was never a doubt that he was one of the most competitive guys we’ve seen. I think this ability to make adjustments in-game and stay on course and work through difficult innings, difficult situations, I think it speaks to the whole thing. Experience has helped him have to do that, but he’s also taken on those challenges with a very aggressive mindset towards what he wants to do.”