Cole Irvin entered the offseason with something to prove.

His first year with the Orioles, after being traded prior to the start of the 2023 season, saw him in every role from starter to reliever to Triple-A depth. But he knew he had more to show. So he hunkered down, getting stronger in the weight room and adjusting his sinker and cutter grips.

The result were there in spring training, and he earned a spot in the rotation with John Means and Kyle Bradish both on the injured list to start the season. But on Tuesday, in his first start of the year, the changes didn’t shine through quite as well as the southpaw anticipated. He gave up four runs in the Orioles’ 4-1 loss to the Royals, facing a lineup of eight right-handed hitters.

Perhaps it was from the weather, which was dreadful from first to last pitch. Or the increase in competition — spring training results, after all, can only mean so much. Either way, in Grapefruit League play his fastball hit close 96 mph and hovered regularly around 95. On Tuesday, it didn’t go above 94.1 mph.

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His pitches, though, on average were all thrown harder than they were a year ago, a sign that the changes he implemented are still making a difference, even if it’s not quite as drastic as it was in Florida. The curveball and cutter — a pitch he is hoping to utilize more against right-handed hitters — had the highest increase in velocity, averaging 1.1 and 0.8 mph higher than last year, respectively.

“I’m not really concerned about velocity,” Irvin said. “Coming off spring training, I was walking quite a few guys. Limited the walks, got some swings and misses. We’re in a really great spot going into the next start.”

Irvin made it through the first inning without giving up a run, getting a swinging strikeout on his curveball. The second frame wasn’t as strong. A walk followed by two singles that both found a gap between infielders brought in one run, and a double from Maikel Garcia sent in two more. Irvin went away from his changeup that inning and threw too many balls into the middle of the plate.

“I need to shake to it and get to it,” he said. “That’s the tail of the game. I want to throw my changeup, it was really good. Everything else, the mix was there. I got a lot more swings and misses on some spin that I’m not typically used to, so that’s a good sign.”

Irvin gave up one other run in the fourth off an RBI triple from Garcia. He pitched five innings, walking two and striking out three.

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Dillon Tate, Jacob Webb and Jonathan Heasley didn’t yield a run in four innings of relief.

“That, to me, was the one good thing about this game, I thought the bullpen threw the ball great,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Heasley there, the last couple of innings, did a nice job. It was nice to go an inning a piece, two innings for Heasley, and not have to burn a bunch of guys for tomorrow.”

The Orioles’ offense, the same one that had 24 runs in the first two games of the season and walked it off on Monday night, had no spark on Tuesday. They had just two hits against Royals’ starter Alec Marsh, back-to-back doubles from Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser in the third, as Marsh pitched a career-high seven innings.

The Orioles got on base just two other times, a walk for Ryan O’Hearn in the fourth and another hit from Cowser in the eighth.

“Tonight wasn’t out best night, approach-wise,” Hyde said. “We didn’t make Marsh work. I give him credit, he really threw the ball well and kept us off-balance and threw a bunch of strikes. We need to be a grind-out, next-guy-up team, and tonight we had a lot of soft outs early in the count.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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