The Baltimore Orioles, Major League Baseball's surprise team of the summer, now appear highly unlikely to make the playoffs after dropping three of four this week against the Toronto Blue Jays, the main team they're pursuing in the wild card race. The Orioles entered Thursday 4 ½ games back of the Blue Jays with 25 to play, resulting in SportsLine's forecasts giving them a 5 percent shot at the postseason.
If the Orioles do indeed fall victim to the odds and miss the playoffs, at least they can find solace in the late-season emergence of right-hander Kyle Bradish.
Bradish, originally acquired in the trade that sent Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels, has had two distinct seasons within the season, with the month he missed because of shoulder inflammation serving as the line of demarcation. Prior to the injury, Bradish had started 10 times and posted an unimpressive 7.38 ERA; in his eight starts since returning from the injured list, he's accumulated a 3.09 ERA.
Bradish has been particularly impressive as of late. He had a short, ineffective start against the Blue Jays on Tuesday that muddied the waters, but before that he had thrown a combined 15 shutout innings on the road against two division leaders, the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Guardians, over his previous two starts.
Predictably, Bradish's shoulder woes were not the cause for his turnaround or his proverbial radioactive spider bite. The driving forces have been the tweaks he's made throughout the season to his mechanics and to his pitch mix.
Bradish has scrapped the rocker step that he used to start his operation. These days, he essentially works from the stretch at all times, an approach that seems increasingly popular. He's also changed where he stands on the pitching rubber, sliding toward the first-base side in late August in a move that was inspired by watching Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Corbin Burnes, according to the Baltimore Sun's Nathan Ruiz.
Bradish has recalibrated his arsenal, too. He's thrown just two pitches more than 15 percent of the time this season, in his fastball and slider. The former sits in the mid-90s and behaves more like a cutter. To wit, the tilt on Bradish's fastball is similar to that of the fastballs thrown by Max Fried, Julio Urías, and José Quintana, among other lefties. Bradish is, of course, a righty. Meanwhile, his slider features an above-average break, both vertically and horizontally.
Whereas Bradish threw his fastball at least 50 percent of the time prior to the injury, he threw it 48 percent of the time in August and 36 percent in two September appearances. His slider has benefitted, as his usage rate has increased to 38 percent. Given how much more effective his slider has been at missing bats, it's a reasonable bet that he should post greater swing-and-miss and strikeout rates heading forward. That, in turn, could help mask one of his enduring weaknesses: his location.
There's a difference between control and command. The former entails throwing strikes and avoiding walks, the latter is about throwing quality strikes -- or, even, at times throwing quality balls. Bradish has yet to make strides in those respects. He's been prone to hard contact throughout the season (he ranks in the sixth percentile in average exit velocity against, per Statcast), and he's actually walked a higher rate of batters (albeit barely) in the second half of his season than he did for the first half.
Perhaps Bradish can improve in those arenas moving forward. If his season has shown anything, it's that he has the willingness to work and the ability to adapt.