CHICAGO — Two days earlier, Anthony Rizzo won the battle, blooping an out-of-the-strike-zone changeup from Orioles right-hander Yennier Cano the opposite way for a single. This time, when Cano stepped onto the mound once more at Yankee Stadium in May 2023, he had Ryan Klimek’s voice in his head.

Klimek, Baltimore’s pitching strategy coach, is mostly out of the spotlight. But just about every pitch thrown on a nightly basis follows his insight so, at Klimek’s suggestion, Cano peppered the outside edge of the zone against Rizzo with sinkers. The diving fastball forced Rizzo to roll over for a groundout, and Cano secured the save early in his breakout season.

“It worked out really well,” Cano said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones.

Klimek doesn’t call pitches. He doesn’t force pitchers and catchers to take his advice. But since 2022, when Klimek was promoted into his pitching strategy role, his influence on what is thrown, where it’s thrown and how it’s thrown has only expanded.

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With his guidance, the Orioles’ pitching staff has flourished.

Gone are the backyard baseball days, the my-best-stuff-vs.-your-best-stuff hardball. That was pre-analytics. That was when a gut feeling more than statistics governed the decisions of a pitcher and catcher. There’s more information in the game now, and Klimek is often the go-between for pitchers and the analytics that elevates their effectiveness.

He’s a behind-the-scenes figure yet plays as large a role as anyone.

“I like looking at analytics, but I also don’t know near as much as he does, and I think he does a really good job of breaking down a lot of the technical things and giving it to us in an easier form,” right-hander Grayson Rodriguez said. “Like, basically, dumbing it down for us. Because, obviously, he’s brilliant. He’s really good at what he does, and I think he makes our jobs easier.”

Before every series, Klimek calls a meeting. With the pitchers and catchers, Klimek runs through a presentation of each of the opposing team’s hitters — what they do well and which areas can be exploited.

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It’s not unique to the Orioles. Across Major League Baseball, data science is as important now as strength training. But Cano said, when he was with the Minnesota Twins, the depth of analysis was more focused on the opposing stars rather than the entire lineup.

“I think he does a really good job of breaking down a lot of the technical things and giving it to us in an easier form. Like, basically, dumbing it down for us.”

Orioles pitcher Grayson Rodriguez on Ryan Klimek

“They would basically choose the three best hitters on the opposing team, and we would take a deep dive on those three guys and analyze what we can do against them,” Cano said. “Whereas, here, we analyze all nine guys and develop a game plan for every hitter.”

Cano called those meetings “fundamental” to his success — rising from a little-known trade piece to an All-Star with the Orioles in a year. Rodriguez said Klimek is “the perfect bridge” for young pitchers as they come to grips with the flood of information that becomes available in the majors.

Before a game, Klimek, the catchers and the starting pitcher go over the opponent once more.

“We want to make sure our pitchers are doing what they do well first,” Klimek said. “We might turn some knobs, depending on who the hitter is and whatnot, but the most important thing is these pitchers pitch without clutter in their head and just a sense of who they are and go out and attack hitters.”

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Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Yennier Cano (78) pounds his glove after throwing a scoreless inning in a game against the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards on April 1, 2024. The Orioles beat the Royals, 6-4, on Monday night.
Reliever Yennier Cano says the Orioles and Ryan Klimek go deeper into pitching strategy than the Twins did when he pitched in Minnesota. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Klimek joined the organization his brother, Steven, once pitched for as an advance scout in 2017. In that role, he did much of what he does now: analyzing the opponent and creating a report. But, when executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias arrived late in 2018, the advance scouting department divided into two: run creation and run prevention.

Klimek was assigned to run prevention.

With a head for pitchers, Baltimore took Klimek a step further in 2022 by handing him a uniform. As the pitching strategy coach, Klimek is in the dugout. He can provide instant feedback to his pitchers and catchers, tweaking an approach when necessary.

“In the past, I would do the scouting reports and the game plan, and then I would not be present in the game,” Klimek said. “Now, it’s having me there as a resource for these guys to go out, execute and ask questions between innings.”

That’s a critical cog in Baltimore’s pitching success. Catcher Adley Rutschman noted how, especially against divisional opponents, hitters can catch on to how a team is trying to pitch them and adjust rapidly to counteract it.

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“We have our plan, and then we have our pivot points too,” Rutschman said. “That’s when you really have to be outside the box and think, ‘This guy has seen this pitcher six times already this year. How do we go about it?’”

Those changes can occur between games, between innings or between batters. And it’s possible because of the rapport Klimek has forged over three years in his role.

“As you see it work, and guys build more trust in it,” Rutschman said, “it makes everything run smoother, because we have our plan and confidence in a plan that we know is well thought out.”

When Klimek discusses it, he pushes all the credit to the pitchers and hitters. They’re the ones who must buy in, and they’re the ones who take ideas and execute them. But to Rutschman?

Klimek is as important as any member of the Orioles.

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“Not only being able to come up with a good plan but being able to communicate that effectively to many different personalities on this team — that’s not something you can see on a computer,” Rutschman said. “That’s something where his social skills, his ability to work with every single pitcher and catcher on this team, he has to manage a lot more than I think he’ll probably give himself credit for. And he does it better than anybody.”

Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, talking with pitcher Albert Suárez, says pitching strategy coach Ryan Klimek develops a plan for pitchers and catchers that has key pivot points in it. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Still, for many, Klimek is an unknown figure whose impact and credit aren’t equal. When asked how Klimek has raised the pitching performances of his staff, manager Brandon Hyde was momentarily stunned.

“We’ve got a Ryan Klimek question,” Hyde said.

Then: “Good,” Hyde went on. “We should talk about Ryan Klimek.”