BALTIMORE -- Unfamiliar territory has found Kyle Bradish. As he thinks back on his career through the Minor Leagues, he’s unable to recall a stretch this trying, now with a 9.20 ERA across his last seven starts following Saturday’s 7-6 loss to the Rays at Camden Yards.
On Saturday, that manifested into 11 hits and six runs against a not exactly imposing Tampa Bay lineup.
"It's probably one of the first times it's happened to me in my career,” Bradish said. “… I try to think back to my debut, and then the St. Louis start. Those are the two good ones that I've had in the 10. Now it's time to start putting up some results."
Internally, there remains unwavering belief in Bradish, the 25-year-old who recently graduated from prospect status as No. 10 in Baltimore’s system. That remains true for Bradish himself, owner of confidence the Orioles have lauded, an aspect that made him the first top prospect they elevated off the farm this season.
But the struggles are apparent. Along with the recent run of ERA woes, opponents are hitting .339 off him this season as he has been unable to complete six innings in each of his last seven starts.
The club optioned lefty Bruce Zimmermann to Triple-A Norfolk on Thursday amid his own toiling. But manager Brandon Hyde said there has been no discussion of venturing down that path with Bradish.
“We do have confidence in him and his stuff,” Hyde said. “It's just about learning to pitch up here. He's shown some games where he was good, he was really good the first time through the order today. Now it’s just about being able to repeat it. … He’s developing up here in the big leagues.”
So what’s going on?
For starters, it’s command. All but one of the 11 hits off Bradish came on balls within the zone, five of which were fastballs not elevated enough and three sliders that caught far too much of the plate, each thrown sitting on two strikes. The most fateful pitch of his afternoon -- the two-run homer hit by Ji-Man Choi in the fifth inning -- was a changeup middle-down that Hyde wanted to see run more armside.
Bradish is dissatisfied with his command, which at its apex can see him appearing regularly on the famed Twitter account Pitching Ninja. He continues to work between starts to try to rediscover it, and he appeared on an auspicious path through the first two innings against Tampa Bay until a fateful recurrence played out in the third and fifth.
“This is the big leagues,” said catcher Robinson Chirinos, owner of a three-hit, four-RBI performance with a stolen base to boot in the comeback that fell short. “You have to make adjustments. He's working hard to do that. I see him [turning] around and being able to give us a chance to win every time he's on the mound.”
That’s the ideal version of Bradish that the Orioles see, a stalwart of their rotation by the time the next wave of prospects joins him in the Majors. For now, they’ll take short-term struggles should they come with long-term benefits -- learning how to forge through the big leagues, and learning some key components about himself.
Such as: “That I'm capable of pitching in the big leagues,” Bradish said. “It's definitely a learning experience, and I'm learning at the highest point of baseball."