Trickle-down impact of Bradish injury on Orioles pitching tough to overlook

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Orioles manager Brandon Hyde told reporters on Thursday that “everything’s going well” in the early stages of Kyle Bradish’s throwing progression in Sarasota. 

So far, so good one week after general manager Mike Elias revealed the Game 1 starter of last year’s AL Division Series is dealing with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Bradish, 27, continues to play catch in Sarasota and has expressed confidence about still being able to pitch in 2024, and Elias said he was “pointed in a good direction” last week.

But for every Masahiro Tanaka or Aaron Nola successfully avoiding Tommy John surgery and its extensive recovery period, many more pitchers with UCL injuries are only fighting the inevitable by going the route of rest, rehab, and — in Bradish’s case — a platelet-rich plasma injection. Contrary to popular perception, however, UCL reconstruction isn’t without risk to a pitcher’s career, which is why it’s worth exploring a more conservative approach for smaller ligament tears. Even if Bradish risks missing more time next season if surgery proves to be unavoidable, it’s probably worth wagering a month or two in 2025 if he can indeed resume pitching without having the procedure that would sideline him for at least a year. 

Of course, the Orioles can’t bet heavily on Bradish pitching this season, let alone performing like he did in 2023. That’s what made the news so disappointing with the start of this spring carrying more excitement and optimism than fans have felt in decades. A starting rotation headlined by 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, Bradish, and Grayson Rodriguez looked better on paper than anything Baltimore has deployed in a long time. 

The revelation that Bradish began feeling elbow discomfort last month certainly painted the Feb. 1 trade for Burnes in a different light. Even if the former doesn’t pitch in 2024, the Orioles have still upgraded the No. 1 spot in their starting rotation by acquiring the 29-year-old Burnes, who carries a more established track record of excellence. And there’s plenty of optimism surrounding the 24-year-old Rodriguez after his breakout second half last year.   

But the trickle-down effect is what’s problematic for a club with World Series aspirations. 

Plugging in Burnes for Bradish and bumping up Rodriguez to the No. 2 spot is far from the entire picture, especially with left-hander John Means not expected to be ready for Opening Day either. In addition to potentially needing to replace Bradish’s 168 2/3 innings from a year ago, the Orioles didn’t re-sign Kyle Gibson, who pitched a team-high 192 frames for last year’s 101-win club. His 4.73 ERA didn’t wow anyone, but such durability carries value that’s difficult to quantify as the Orioles reaped the benefits of having three pitchers make 30-plus starts — Dean Kremer is now the only healthy incumbent — and two others who made at least 20 start last season. 


Baltimore is already being reminded that such rotation health isn’t guaranteed.  

Maybe it is as simple as plugging Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin into the back of the rotation for the time being, especially if Means is finally in the clear from 2022 Tommy John surgery and ready to return to being a rotation mainstay by late April. We forget just how well Wells pitched in the first half of 2023 before wearing down and being demoted in July to transition to a bullpen role. And after a poor April that resulted in being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, Irvin returned to pitch to a 3.20 ERA over 64 2/3 innings, which did include nine starts.

In other words, the Orioles aren’t pressing the panic button, but maintaining the status quo still looks like a very optimistic outlook. 

What about the bullpen? 

Even if you’re buying Craig Kimbrel — who turns 36 in late May — as a shutdown closer, he’s not going to be Felix Bautista. No one is, which is what made the All-Star reliever’s elbow injury so devastating last August. But even if Kimbrel proves very effective in his 15th major league season, who else can Hyde count on for high-leverage situations? 

No one expects him to repeat what he did over the first half of 2023, but All-Star setup man Yennier Cano certainly deserves a checkmark. 

After that? 


Wells is likely to be in the rotation after looking like an intriguing late-inning option, and hard-throwing left-hander DL Hall was sent to Milwaukee in the Burnes trade. 

Can the Orioles count on 34-year-old lefty Danny Coulombe to duplicate his surprising 2023? 

Cionel Perez? Dillon Tate? Jacob Webb? Mike Baumann? Nick Vespi? Bryan Baker?

At best, these are coin-flip options for the late innings. 

Elias would be quick to remind that the Orioles’ roster is a living canvas, and that’s true. 

These aren’t problems that need to be solved by St. Patrick’s Day or even Opening Day, which suits a general manager known for being methodical. It’s not as though the Orioles aren’t a legitimate playoff contender as presently constructed, but you’d feel better about their championship hopes with another reliable starter and back-end reliever in the mix. They have the resources to add such pieces.

Acquiring Burnes was a home run regardless of the timing of the Bradish injury, but hoping for the best-case scenario after that would be too great a risk for a club primed to take the next step. 

One only hopes Elias has another key move or two up his sleeve in the coming weeks. 

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