Cade Povich spent two months to end last year at Norfolk trying to get a feel for the major league baseball used at Triple-A, and if the hitters of the International League knew what was good for them, they would have taken advantage of that while they could.

Povich is as settled in at the level as one can be, and turned in one of the best months of any pitcher in the minors as a result.

The 24-year-old left-hander, one of four pitchers the Orioles acquired in the August 2022 trade of All-Star closer Jorge López, earned both the Orioles’ and the International League’s pitcher of the month awards for an April in which he had a 1.03 ERA with 40 strikeouts and a 0.76 WHIP.

“He’s in a much better place,” Norfolk pitching coach Justin Ramsey said in a phone interview. “I think having a ton of success, punching out a bunch of dudes in Double-A, you just kind of assume it’s going to happen at the next level and it’s just a different dynamic up here.

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“Obviously, there’s different approaches, guys with a lot more experience, guys that have been in the big leagues, and so they recognize pitches or have different plans. They don’t chase nearly as much. He’s just done a really good job of trusting his stuff, getting back through the zone, and letting his weapons work and not chasing things, not going out there and thinking too much but getting ahead, staying ahead, and putting them away.”

When Povich has been able to do that in his professional career, the results have been similar to what they are now. A third-round pick by the Minnesota Twins in 2021, Povich has moved quickly and, perhaps more importantly, proven adept at internalizing what each new level tells him, especially when he has an offseason to address that.

He demonstrated that coming back to Double-A Bowie in 2023 after six appearances there to end 2022 after the trade. He had a 6.94 ERA with 10 strikeouts per nine and a 1.37 WHIP in 2023 for the Baysox, and was down to a 4.87 ERA with much better expected stats and, perhaps most importantly, 13 strikeouts per nine over 18 appearances in 2024.

When he went to Triple-A, the transition from the minor league ball to the major league ball had a huge impact on Povich, Ramsey said.

“It’s a little different for everybody, but I would say honestly, outside of Drew Rom when he came up, everyone has had an adjustment on their pitch shapes,” he said. “A lot of guys lose hop [on their fastballs], a lot of guys have lower spins when they first get it. It’s a different baseball — it comes out of the hand differently. It’s more just time and reps than anything for these guys. You know it’s only a matter of time for it, sometimes it happens within a month, or you start to see gradual returns to form. Sometimes you need that whole offseason of just throwing it to be comfortable to let it do what it does.”

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That’s what has happened with Povich, Ramsey said. He was getting a little more consistent last September, and now, he is back to the same pitcher as he was in 2023.

“The shapes are back to what they were in Double-A — more hop on the heater, more consistent breaks on the breaking ball, and getting more comfortable with the major league ball compared to the Double-A ball. With his change-up, he kind of struggled with that at times, even in Double-A. It came back a little bit once he got the big league ball, that seemed to help him with that, but the feel for the zone wasn’t quite there. ... That’s been a really nice adjustment, improvement, if you will, for him with that this year. He’s used that multiple times in different outings to get back in counts, which is not something he was necessarily doing with that pitch before.”

Similarly, Povich’s lower walk rate — 3.9 per nine, down from 5.76 per nine at Triple-A last year — demonstrates a better ability to stay in the zone. While it’s still on the higher side, he’s certainly not nibbling because he can’t live in the strike zone. The opposite is proving true.

Through his first six starts, Povich is showing that his stuff plays incredibly well in the zone. Entering Tuesday, 48.9% of his pitches have been in the strike zone — up from 48.1% in Triple-A in 2023 — and opponents are batting .171 with a .271 slugging percentage on his pitches in the zone. The expected stats on those batted balls are equally meek.

He’s particularly missing bats in the zone with his fastball, cutter, and sweeper, and the quality of contact is generally poor off all five of his pitches in the zone. That’s leading to more effective chase rate as well, with the threat of more pitches located in the zone coaxing more swings on pitches outside the zone (27% versus 25.5% in 2023, with whiffs on 50% as opposed to 48.1%).

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The result, entering Povich’s seventh start of the season Tuesday night in Memphis, Tennessee, is a run that Ramsey says matches up with as good as anything he’s seen at the level — and that includes Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall.

“It’s definitely up there,” Ramsey said. “Not only was he not walking guys. He’s punching a bunch of tickets, but soft contact, limiting damage, working out of jams when there were some. It was really impressive every time out, too, because that’s the other thing. It’s one thing to do it for two, three, four outings, but to do it for every single outing over the course of six starts — and also, some of those were when we were in Charlotte and doing a lot of things offensively where it’s harder to stay focused. Other times, they were really tight games, so there’s that extra pressure because maybe we’re not doing so much offensively so you feel like you’ve got to do a little more on the mound. But to stay consistent throughout the course of it is very impressive.”

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

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