SARASOTA, Fla.—Branden Kline made sure he kept the baseball. “That goes to mama,” he said.
For the 27-year-old Kline, it was a day to remember, even if it was the ninth inning of an exhibition game.
Kline entered the game, with the Orioles clinging to a 9-8 lead over the Toronto Blue Jays, and struck out Patrick Cantwell, Cavan Biggio and Jonathan Davis for a save, and the Orioles’ second straight Grapefruit League win.
“It’s enjoyable when you can do that,” Kline said. He felt comfortable with his catcher at Double-A Bowie from last year, Martin Cervenka, and only shook him off once, he said.
“It helped out a lot with him being out there with me,” Kline said. “It’s enjoyable, but there are still a lot of things we need to work on, things I can improve on, and I’m looking forward to doing that throughout the course of this camp.”
Kline touched 96 mph in the ninth, striking out Cantwell, who played for Double-A New Hampshire, which is in the same league as the Baysox, and catching Biggio, the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, looking. Kline struck out Davis, who played 20 games for the Blue Jays last September, swinging to end the game.
“Wow,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “You see how he’s got a great arm and electric stuff. To be able to do that in a big league spring training game right away. I know we’ve got a long way to go. That’s obviously a great start for him, and that’s got to make him feel good.”
Hyde has heard about Kline’s story, a native of Frederick, Md., who was the Orioles’ second-round draft pick and missed two full seasons because of Tommy John surgery.
Kline, who hadn’t pitched since early in the 2015 season, had an outstanding year for High-A Frederick and the Baysox, with a sparkling 1.64 ERA, allowing just three home runs in 65 2/3 innings while striking out 71.
The 27-year-old was rewarded with a place on the 40-man roster for the first time. Even though the Orioles used a franchise-record 56 players last season, he wasn’t one of them, and didn’t expect to be.
“There was kind of like a plan in place,” Kline said. “The reason I was in the minor leagues is because I had to work on something. Every day I went out there and tried to get better and better and better. When the end of the year came about, it was kind of like, ‘OK, let’s go home, let’s rest and let’s try to improve and hit the ground running when we show up,’ so I had no expectation of getting called up.
“…I had no expectation of that last year, and I’m just looking to compete to get on that 25-man roster.”
With so many spots open on the roster, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Kline start the season with the Orioles.
“It’s definitely been exciting, that’s for sure,” Kline said. “Not only being around a lot of guys that I played coming up through the system, but also a lot of veterans like [Andrew] Cashner and [Alex] Cobb.
“Being able to learn something new every single day from everybody here has been a great opportunity. At the same time, I’m not here just to enjoy the moment. I’m here to get better and make the team.”
Kline had made it to Bowie for the first time in 2015 when his arm began hurting. After the Tommy John surgery and complications, he missed the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Now, he’s a prospect, and savoring it.
“It’s like the small things you take for granted,” Kline said. “It’s the small things you look forward to, like coming in here and putting baseball pants on to go out and play catch with a big league ball, little things that you don’t think about. With the whole ride of the injuries, that’s back in the past.”
Growing up in Frederick, Kline wasn’t an Orioles fan. He followed the Boston Red Sox and adored Pedro Martinez.
“That all changed when I got drafted in 2012,” Kline said. “Since then, I’ve been the biggest Orioles supporter.”
The University of Virginia alum follows Orioles news closely, and playing for the Baysox, he’s tuned in to everything about the team.
“In Bowie, we’re 20 minutes away from Baltimore, so we see the news,” Kline said. “It’s exciting, it’s nice to be so close to the big league team…Being able to play with a couple of guys that were in the big leagues last year, I was able to follow their careers, be able to text them and see what’s going on.”
As a lifelong resident of Frederick, Kline didn’t feel any pressure from local fans who could have bugged him about his injuries and lack of progress in the farm system.
“I’m very appreciative of people taking an interest in my career,” Kline said. “They know that unfortunately, certain things happen. It’s one of those things, how you take it mentally and if you go out and sulk, they can kind of see that.
“My friends and family have been supportive the entire way. I’ve seen and heard nothing but good things, so I’m very appreciative of that…I’m in this locker room now competing [with players] who are obviously going to be on the Baltimore Orioles, but at the same time, trying to learn as much as I can from them.”