The last time Kyle Bradish stood on this mound, it was the first game of the American League Division Series, and for the most part on that October day Bradish continued the excellence he had exhibited in his first full season as part of the Orioles’ rotation.

The expectations were that Bradish would build on his breakout 2023 campaign — that he would return as the burgeoning ace of a Baltimore squad aiming for another postseason push.

Bradish and the Orioles needed to wait for it, though.

In the time between Bradish’s final start of 2023 and his first start Thursday in Baltimore’s 7-2 series-clinching victory against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards, uncertainty prevailed. Bradish injured the UCL in his throwing elbow in January, and with the glut of devastating results around the league for pitchers with elbow injuries, it was no given that Bradish’s approach of receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection before rehab would work.

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But here he was, skipping over the foul line with a smack of his glove — a long-held entrance of his — for a start that was never guaranteed this winter. Bradish avoided Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and missed just the first month or so of the season.

The results — not only his performance Thursday but the fact he was healthy enough to do this at all — went about as well as they could have.

“Ever since we found out what was going on, it was full focus on getting back here and pitching here at a high level,” Bradish said. “Very hard mentally just knowing it was going to be a long road, was gonna miss the first month of the season, which sucks. But we’re back now; we’re healthy.”

Bradish said he was “very relieved” to get his first start of the season out of the way. His excitement was plain to see; the ball jumped out of his hand at the same or higher velocities than last season. His first-pitch sinker whizzed in at 96 mph to Anthony Volpe, and he backed that up with two sharp sliders for a strikeout of the Yankees shortstop.

The 27-year-old required 14 more pitches in that first inning than he might’ve. On a would-be groundout to close the frame, home plate umpire Dan Iassogna called the ball dead due to catcher’s interference and awarded Aaron Judge first base. Then Bradish grazed Anthony Rizzo with a pitch ever so slightly before a walk loaded the bases.

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That could’ve unraveled Bradish’s outing, and the additional pitches needed to get out of the first likely meant Bradish was pulled sooner than he might have been otherwise. But the starter’s mettle in that situation was another good sign.

“It was a weird, weird start to the game,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It was a little bit of everything and could’ve gotten hairy there in the first inning. For him to keep his composure and to get out of that was huge.”

Bradish went 4 2/3 innings, reaching the 84-pitch mark — slightly more than he reached in his final rehab start. He allowed just one run on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts. The best part, catcher James McCann said, was “seeing him look normal. … Seeing that he wasn’t any different than who he was last year.”

In completing that first outing, Bradish proved his winter optimism surrounding the injury correct.

“Especially with the state of pitching today, you feel nervous almost every time some guy takes the mound right now,” Hyde said before first pitch. “But we feel great about the progress Kyle’s made and how he’s feeling and all the boxes he’s checked and how the rehab went.”

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Bradish required only three rehab starts in the minors. Barring a blip in an outing for Triple-A Norfolk, his results were strong at the lower levels. But, more than results, the Orioles took heart in Bradish’s recovery, velocity and control.

Those were more tangible signs that Bradish was ready, and he carried that over into a game in which his Orioles teammates pummeled Yankees left-hander Carlos Rodón the second time through the order.

Ryan Mountcastle watches his solo home run in the third inning on a day when the Orioles hit three homers. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Baltimore, which leads the majors with 48 homers, added three in the series finale from Ryan Mountcastle, Jorge Mateo and Ryan McKenna. And, in the fifth, the Orioles added to their lead with a run-scoring single for Adley Rutschman, a two-run triple from Jordan Westburg and a Mateo sacrifice fly.

“We’ve got a lot of good hitters, and homers are going to happen with a lot of good approaches and talented guys here,” McKenna said. “It’s always good to get one and contribute, and hopefully keep it rolling.”

By piling on in the third, fourth and fifth innings, Baltimore tagged Rodón for a season-high seven runs, giving Bradish ample breathing room and ensuring the Orioles would take a critical series win against the Yankees.

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These teams will play nine more times this season in what is expected to be a tight race for the American League East.

“Every series is important, right? Especially in division,” McCann said. “In division is important whether it’s the Yankees, the Rays, the Blue Jays or the Red Sox, so taking three of four is huge. But, again, it’s early in the season and we’re just trying to build off each game.”

On an individual level, so is Bradish.

Even as star pitchers around the league are being shut down and facing elbow surgeries at an alarming rate, the Orioles believed Bradish was an outlier. After one game, he appears to be just that.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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