BALTIMORE — On March 23, Kyle Bradish had just wrapped up the first Major League Spring Training outing of his career with two breezy innings. Asked how it felt to face the Yankees, who trotted out their varsity lineup, he said that he was pleased to get an early look at a division rival — mind you, this coming from a prospect yet to have a solidified spot on the team — and that he welcomed the challenge.
“I attack guys no matter who they are,” Bradish said at the time. “So that being the Yankees, it was fun.”
In May, Bradish got his wish, facing a similar cast of Yankees starters in a game that now mattered, resembling “a very difficult test” just four starts into his Major League career, as manager Brandon Hyde put it. This time, results differed, as Bradish suffered the loss in a 6-2 defeat against the Yankees at Camden Yards on Monday evening.
In a microcosm of his young season to date, Bradish was at times comfortable and at times trying. His first inning required 30 pitches and three strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded jam that he got himself into with a pair of walks. His second inning needed just six pitches.
His final line for the evening: 4 1/3 innings, eight hits, four runs, three walks, six strikeouts and only 48 of 84 pitches for strikes (roughly 57 percent). Those three walks doubled his season total.
“Just trying to find it,” Bradish said, one start removed from an electric 11-strikeout performance in St. Louis on Tuesday. “It was easy last outing. I was in the zone and everything was working. Today, I was just trying to find it, and that probably is a reason why I wasn’t in the zone so often.”
“I just didn’t think that his breaking ball was as good tonight as it was in St. Louis,” added Hyde. “I thought there was a lot of arm-side and up misses with his fastball. Maybe he was overamped early, but I just didn’t think his command was as good tonight as it has been.”
More important than the direct results were — and will continue to be — the lessons Bradish can take away from his rookie starts. He’s learned success, evident in St. Louis, and had bouts of struggle. The club hopes that all of these experiences will boil into his long-term success in the O’s rotation, as he is just the first of several Top 10 prospects expected to debut in 2022.
So call Bradish’s first inning a microcosm within a microcosm. He worked himself into a bases-loaded jam with a pair of walks and a well-placed single from Gleyber Torres. Sandwiched around each of those plate appearances was a strikeout. His third K, which retired Joey Gallo, ended the inning and induced an emphatic slap into his glove.
What was going through his mind?
“A lot,” Bradish said. “Fired up for getting out of it, but also mad for throwing 30 pitches and walking two guys in the first.”
Bradish also learned the lesson of tough luck. The most painful stroke of the night was a three-run shot from Yankees catcher Jose Trevino in the fourth inning that just glanced off the right-field foul pole. With an exit velocity of 93.8 mph, a launch angle of 37 degrees and a projected distance of just 349 feet, similarly hit balls have an expected batting average of just .110.
On Thursday, it became the first homer hit by a Yankee catcher this season.
“He’s a young starter that has only got a few starts under his belt,” Hyde said. “He’s facing the Yankees and thought he had good stuff, just didn’t quite command it the way he has been the last couple starts.”
And those ingredients — command versus stuff — are directly correlated with results, perhaps for Bradish especially. During his time in the Minors, Bradish was at his best when he worked ahead of hitters, able to use his plus breaking and offspeed pitches — or elevated fastballs — for whiffs. Now, his most impressive offerings earn him a nightly fan in famed Twitter account Pitching Ninja.
“I feel comfortable attacking haters,” said Bradish, unhappy with his slider and changeup grip and control. “It just comes down to being in the zone. When I’m in the zone, I’m pretty dominant and not really getting hit. But when I’m pretty sporadic with strikes, that’s when guys find holes or throw their barrel at the ball.”
So Monday was a full-circle moment, to see if Bradish’s start was made more meaningful given the competition, another chance to more fully introduce himself to a divisional rival after throwing a quality start in his debut against the Red Sox.
“No,” Bradish said in full.