Irvin's velo jump pays dividends in spring debut

O's lefty uncorks 95.9 mph pitch -- faster than any offering in his career

February 25th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. -- On the seventh pitch of the first inning of his 2024 Grapefruit League debut, hit 95.9 mph with a four-seam fastball, per Statcast.

Some pitchers routinely sit in that range. But for the Orioles' left-hander, this was a milestone.

That heater was thrown harder than any pitch Irvin has delivered over 105 regular-season outings in his five MLB seasons. The southpaw’s career high is 95.3 mph, and he’s hit 95 only three times.

It could happen more frequently this season.

“Maybe when we’ve got a full Camden Yards, maybe we see a couple higher numbers,” Irvin said.

An offseason of hard work is already paying dividends for Irvin, who retired all six Pittsburgh batters he faced Sunday afternoon at LECOM Park. The 30-year-old recorded three strikeouts and allowed only one ball to leave the infield in Baltimore’s 2-0 win.

Irvin was electric, and his increased velocity was the big takeaway from the day. It was more than the 95.9 mph four-seamer, which resulted in an Oneil Cruz groundout to second base.

Of Irvin’s 28 pitches, 20 were strikes. He threw eight four-seam fastballs, seven cutters, six sinkers, five curveballs and two changeups.

All five had an average velocity higher than Irvin’s 2023 MLB average:

Four-seamer: +1.8 mph
Cutter: +2.5 mph
Sinker: +1.4 mph
Curveball: +1.6 mph
Changeup: +1.3 mph

“It was good. I’m feeling good,” Irvin said. “A lot of the hard work in the offseason is starting to pay off, and that’s what I’m attributing it to.”

It may have been a surprise sight to many who watched Irvin pitch in 2023 -- when he had a 4.42 ERA in 24 games (12 starts) in his first season with the O’s -- but it wasn’t a shock to him.

Irvin didn’t take any days off this offseason, laser-focused on self-improvement. He worked with the coaches at Tread Athletics, a sports performance training company based in Charlotte, N.C., to refine his delivery and pitch designs.

Away from the field, Irvin cut down by more than 10 pounds by implementing a better diet. He also worked with a strength coach and increased the amount of weight he was lifting in the gym.

When Irvin took the mound for his first session of live batting practice early in camp, his teammates took notice.

“It was [Anthony] Santander, myself, I think [Ryan] Mountcastle was there, and we all kind of came back asking if we were seeing the same thing they were seeing,” catcher James McCann said. “It kind of caught us off-guard -- the velo, the way the ball was coming out of his hand.

“When you see hitters question each other, ‘Are you seeing the same thing I am?’ -- that’s when you know that it’s going to be a good challenge.”

McCann, who caught Irvin on Sunday, saw the same reactions from Pirates batters.

“One-hundred percent,” McCann said. “You saw the swings, the takes -- even the takes, they weren’t comfortable takes. Granted, it’s early in camp, so you don’t want to put too much into that. But they were still really good hitters that he just faced.”

Irvin’s first strikeout came against Bryan Reynolds, a former All-Star who went down looking at a 95.3 mph sinker for the second out of the first. Irvin retired both Cruz and Ke’Bryan Hayes, a pair of talented youngsters, on grounders in the opening frame.

In the second, Irvin began by fanning both Jack Suwinski and Rowdy Tellez, who went down swinging against a 92.2 mph four-seamer and an 87.8 mph cutter, respectively. Irvin’s day ended by getting Yasmani Grandal (a two-time All-Star) to fly out to center field.

“The way he threw the ball in to the right-handers I really, really liked,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s nice to see him using both sides of the plate like he did.”

Entering Spring Training, it seemed probable that Irvin (who is out of Minor League options) would be heading to the Orioles’ bullpen for Opening Day. Now, he’s the frontrunner to be the No. 5 starter due to setbacks for Kyle Bradish (right UCL sprain) and John Means (left elbow recovery).

As Irvin said himself, it’s only one Spring Training start. But there’s a lot of optimism surrounding his potential impact on Baltimore’s pitching staff in 2024.

“I’m not striving for that [increased velocity], I’m not shooting for that,” Irvin said. “I’m just trying to be a better version of myself than I was last year.

“ ... I’m just glad the hard work is showing up.”