The start to the third inning Tuesday was one that could have spiraled on Dean Kremer.
After two no-hit innings, the Orioles’ starting pitcher allowed a leadoff single. Then a two-base throwing error by third baseman Gunnar Henderson put runners on second and third with no outs against the top of the Washington Nationals’ batting order.
In need of swings and misses, Kremer didn’t turn to his curveball, his changeup or his new sweeper. Instead, the right-hander turned up the dial on his fastball, throwing 14 straight four-seamers and sinkers to strike out the side.
Kremer didn’t allow another runner to get into scoring position as he continued his fastball-heavy approach, pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings in the Orioles’ 1-0 win over the host Nationals.
Kremer (1-0) scattered four hits and struck out a season-high six batters — just two fewer punchouts than he recorded in his first 12 1/3 innings. He got 15 swings and misses, tying his career high that he set in July 2022 and matched in September 2022. Nationals batters swung at 53 of his offerings and missed on 15 for an elite 28% whiff rate.
The lone Orioles run came on an RBI single by Austin Hays in the fourth inning. The Orioles (10-7) are 6-0 in series openers this season and 52-39 overall against the Nationals in the Beltway Series.
All but three of Kremer’s swings and misses came on his hard stuff — seven on his four-seam fastball, four on his cutter and one on his sinker. His velocity earlier this season was already slightly up, but it jumped another tick Tuesday.
Kremer’s four-seam fastball averaged 95.7 mph — up 2.2 mph over his 2022 average — and he threw more fastballs harder than 97.0 mph (three) than he had in his entire career (two). His cutter was also up 1.5 mph and his sinker velocity increased 2.7 mph. Three of his strikeouts came on four-seamers, while two were on cutters and one was on a sinker.
Kremer entered the game in need of a clean start after struggling in his first three this season. The 27-year-old was perhaps the Orioles’ best starter in the second half of 2022, but he failed to record more than 15 outs and allowed five home runs with a 9.49 ERA in his first three outings. But his 6 2/3-inning start Tuesday was one of the best of his career.
The start is just the fourth by an Orioles pitcher of six innings or more and the club’s second longest this season, with only Kyle Gibson’s seven-inning start against the Texas Rangers ahead of it.
After Kremer’s three consecutive strikeouts of Lane Thomas, Dominic Smith and Joey Meneses, Nationals cleanup hitter Jeimer Candelario hit a leadoff single in the fourth. Kremer then retired the next 11 batters before a two-out single in the seventh ended his night at 95 pitches.
Left-hander Danny Coulombe relieved Kremer and got lefty CJ Abrams to popout to end the inning. Right-hander Yennier Cano, who was called up last week and had two scoreless outings against the Chicago White Sox, retired the side in the eighth. Closer Félix Bautista allowed a runner to reach second in the ninth, but he got catcher Keibert Ruiz to ground out to second, capping off the shutout for his fifth save of the season.
The strong start from Kremer and the lights-out bullpen were much needed, as an Orioles offense that entered the game ranked top six in MLB in runs per game, on-base percentage, OPS, stolen bases and home runs amassed just five hits off starter Josiah Gray and the Nationals’ bullpen.
Around the horn
- Ramón Urías has cleared concussion protocol and was available to come off the bench Tuesday. Urías took a 96.2 mph sinker off his helmet Saturday and had a bruise behind his left ear. “He’s cleared everything, and that’s unbelievable from what that looked like and how that sounded,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Such a scary moment. He’s passed all the tests, he wants to be in there and he’s ready to go.”
- Right-hander Spenser Watkins was optioned to Triple-A on Monday and left-hander Keegan Akin was reinstated off the paternity list. Watkins didn’t pitch in the Orioles’ series against the Chicago White Sox, and Hyde said he wants Watkins to continue to be stretched out as a starter down in Norfolk. “I want to make sure he’s a rotation candidate for us moving forward,” Hyde said.
- Left-hander Cole Irvin, who was demoted to Triple-A last week after he struggled in his first three starts in Baltimore, allowed two runs in six innings for the Tides on Tuesday. He allowed seven hits and one walk with two strikeouts.
This story will be updated.
Orioles at Nationals
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
TV: MASN, MASN2
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM