First it was Jordan Lyles. Then Kyle Gibson. They took the ball every five days and ate up as many innings as possible.

They were the definition of workhorses in an era when starts are getting shorter and shorter. They saved the Orioles’ bullpen from being overworked, “for the boys” as Lyles would often say.

Lyles and Gibson have moved on to Kansas City and St. Louis, respectively. But the Orioles may have their replacement in someone who witnessed their feats: Dean Kremer. He wants to not only be a workhorse, but to get to 200 innings for the first time after throwing a career-high 172 2/3 innings last year.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as I can,” Kremer said. “The goal is 200, that’s the benchmark for starters. That’s the goal and I want to try to do that repeatedly year after year. ... That may not be where the game is going but every starter in there will say ‘I want 200 innings.’”

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He’s not the only one with that aspiration. Tyler Wells and Grayson Rodriguez are among the Orioles starters would like to get there, too.

“I think it’s good to set goals, 200 innings, that’s something most starters should shoot for,” Rodriguez said. “The more innings you throw as a starter the more innings you are saving from your bullpen. ... If you have a guy who is throwing 200 innings, I just feel like you have a guy who’s done something good enough to stay in the game.”

But this is the opposite direction the game is going. Only five starters hit that benchmark last year, compared to 2013, when 36 surpassed 200 innings.

There was a time, not so long ago, when this was more status quo. Jim Palmer, the Hall of Fame pitcher who now broadcasts Orioles games, pitched at least 200 innings 11 times in his career, even pitching over 300 innings four times. Ben McDonald, who also is now an analyst on Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, hit that mark three times.

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“It’s a unicorn now,” McDonald said. “It was easier for us, we used to pitch to contact. ... It’s about pitching to contact and understanding I want to get deep into ball games. The only way you can really do that is to create early contact so you can get off the field. The day of 125 pitches a start like we used to do, I think those days are gone.”

It also helped, McDonald added, that they didn’t throw out their best stuff until they needed to, saving their arms. He sees Kremer following a similar path — he’ll hover around 94 mph, then pull out 96 when needed.

“We never pitched max effort,” McDonald said. “It was 90% of what I can do. Then when I got myself in a bind, then it was max effort, max effort until I got out of the inning. Then I started the next inning at 90% max effort just trying to pitch to contact. I think the mindset of how we are doing it is going to change if we are going to get more guys. What they realized a few years ago is they don’t need a defense if you are going to strike out more guys. When you strike out a lot of guys, you are going to throw more pitches.”

Pitchers are on shorter leashes now, too. In 1993, when McDonald threw 220 innings, he averaged 101 pitches in 34 starts and pitched five complete games. Last season, Kremer averaged 91 pitches a game and never completed more than seven innings in 32 starts.

The current pitchers who have reached the 200 innings mark multiple times, like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, are nearing the end of their careers and have battled multiple injuries in recent years.

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They are not the only ones who haven’t been on the field as much in recent years — elbow injuries for pitchers have increased across the sport. The number of Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgeries has trended upward over the last 10 years, The Ringer reported in April, with 263 surgeries performed last year compared to 161 in 2013.

Corbin Burnes pitched 202 innings in 2022 with the Brewers. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

And while some still see hitting 200 innings as their goal, Corbin Burnes, who has done it, has a different perspective. Burnes pitched 202 innings in 2022 with the Brewers. The next year he could have done it again, but he opted to rest heading into the playoffs, as that milestone was not nearly as important to him as being able to perform in the postseason.

In 2021, when he won his Cy Young Award, he pitched only 167 innings.

“It’s not a number you have to get to to get awards,” Burnes said. “It’s more, most guys are just trying to make 30 starts and if you can get 200 innings its a plus. ... It doesn’t really mean much now. It’s cool to say you can do it and shows the durability, but throwing 150, 160 innings is considered durable now.”

To even get to 200 innings, a multitude of things have to go right for a pitcher. Wells picked the brains of Lyles, Gibson and Burnes to see how they became workhorses, all of them giving a different answer, Wells said. So he took pieces of all of their advice, then emphasized lifting, conditioning and eating properly this winter to put himself in the best position to be able to join them on that list.

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“That was a big goal for me this offseason, to just really make sure I got in the best shape possible,” he said. “I want to be able to make 35 starts this year. I want to be able to go out there accumulate a lot of innings and be part of this staff and be reliable for the guys.”

Wells hit a setback in his quest earlier this week when the Orioles placed him on the 15-day injured list with right elbow inflammation. While it’s unclear if Wells will need to miss additional time beyond his IL stint, manager Brandon Hyde said the team is confident their starter won’t be sidelined for long.

“After his last start, he just had a little more soreness than normal, it just didn’t quite go away,” he said. “Just felt like the right thing to do from a precautionary standpoint, if he felt anything at all, was to put him on the IL and give him a couple weeks off.”

For Kremer, it’ll come down to being able to make adjustments during games when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

“If you do that, he’ll [Hyde] send you back for another. He’ll send you back out forever,” Kremer said.

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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