BOWIE, Maryland—Pitcher Mike Baumann has spent parts of three summers at Prince George’s Stadium. It wasn’t planned that way.
Two years ago, Baumann made a strong impression with the Double-A Bowie Baysox, going 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 13 starts and a terrific 0.943 WHIP.
It was easy to picture Baumann, who was the Orioles’ third-round pick in the 2017 draft, going to Triple-A Norfolk in 2020, and the Orioles in 2021.
But the pandemic happened, and Baumann was sent to the alternate site at Bowie last summer where his year ended early because of a strain in his flexor mass tendon. The flexor mass is a collection of muscles and tendons that come together in the forearm near the elbow.
During the offseason, Baumann was added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster. He attended spring training but developed tendinitis and began the season with Low-A Delmarva where he threw five hitless innings.
Now, Baumann’s back with the Baysox, and he’ll pitch Friday night against the Hartford Yard Goats. He’s 2-2 with a 5.79 ERA in nine starts but, in his last three starts, Baumann has allowed five runs on 11 hits in 16 innings, striking out 19 and walking three.
“Everything’s starting to come along, and just feeling stronger every week, every start,” Baumann said on Thursday. “There’s been some ups and downs, just trying to get stronger every outing.”
Two other minor league starters, left-hander Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells, were added to the 40-man roster. Lowther got five appearances with the Orioles and on Norfolk’s injured list because of a left shoulder strain. Wells got his first major league start on Wednesday and pitched well against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“As a pitcher, as a competitor, I want to be right there with them,” Baumann said. “As a friend, it’s great to see them there. Everyone’s got a different timeline, I understand that. All I can do is be here in the moment and enjoy my time in Bowie and trust the process.”
Bowie pitching coach Justin Ramsey said it’s natural for players to be envious of teammates who have made it to the majors.
“I’m sure there’s naturally some of that that goes on,” Ramsey said. “But you’d never know it. You never see it with him. He’s been a professional throughout. He knows what he’s here to do to get there. There’s never been any inclination that he’s not happy.
“He shows up and gets his work done with the intent to get better every day, knowing that the ultimate goal is to be a big-time factor for this organization going forward. If that’s delayed six months or a year because of what we’re going through, so be it. The end goal doesn’t change just because the timeline’s a little different from what you had in mind.”
This year’s Baysox are much different from the team Baumann played for 2019. They have the minor leagues’ top pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez, and the top overall prospect, Adley Rutschman.
“Being around these guys is fun. In theory, these guys go up,” Baumann said. “We all have the same end goal of playing together in the big leagues. Anything can happen in a short period of time, so all I can do is go out there and focus on the moment.”
The 25-year-old Baumann, who was a college teammate of Orioles outfielder Austin Hays at Jacksonville University, said his recent success is nothing complex.
“Just getting back in my mentality of attacking guys and not worrying about what happened in the past, with the injury and just trusting that I’m healthy,” Baumann said.
“He’s just getting back to moving the way he used to move,” Ramsey said. “Being comfortable with getting his old delivery back, getting back to the simplified approach of attacking with his best weapons, not feeling his way back or overthinking on certain pitches.”
Bowie is 35 minutes away from Camden Yards and, with Oriole executives often visiting, it must be tempting to think about how close the major leagues are.
“I don’t think of it like that,” Baumann said. “We’re always one call away here in Double-A. Norfolk is the next step. Who knows what’s next? Norfolk’s a few hours away, but I’m having a good time here in Bowie.”
The Baysox also have left-hander DL Hall, who’s on the injured list because of a sore elbow.
“There’s a lot of excitement and good energy and friendly competition,” Baumann said. “Everybody’s trying to push each other to get better. Seeing the talent these guys have, it’s fun to watch day-to-day.
“We’re not just trying to get to the big leagues. We’re trying to compete and win the AL East and win a World Series. I think that pushes you in trying to get your game to the next level and just wait your turn. It forces you to bring out the best. You’re not just trying to get there. You’re trying to get there, stay there and win and bring home a World Series to Baltimore.”
Playing for the Orioles along with Rodriguez and Rutschman would be special.
“You see what a glimpse of the future could be like here in Baltimore,” Baumann said. “These guys are performing well and they’re on the right track. That should give a lot of people a reason to be excited.”
Rutschman impressing: A night after hitting two home runs and driving in seven runs, Rutschman was hitless in three at-bats with a walk in Bowie’s 4-0 win over Hartford on Thursday night.
He threw out Hartford’s Sean Bouchard trying to steal in the fourth inning and Coco Montes in the seventh.
“I think he’s a pro on and off the field,” Baumann said. “He handles himself like a big leaguer. He’s got the right mindset. He’s going to make the guys around him better. I think that’s what makes him as good as he is.
“As a catcher, he lets you know what you can work on, what you’re struggling with, how you can gameplan a little better, how to attack hitters. He’s there for you. He’s going to work for you. He’s not just focused on himself. He wants to learn along the way. He wants to get better, too.”
Ramsey gets to work with the catcher.
“Being the captain on the field, all of those things, he does a fantastic job of,” Ramsey said. “He gets better every day in what he does. I’m very lucky. To be here for all this is awesome.”
Brnovich dominates: In five scoreless innings, right-hander Kyle Brnovich allowed three hits and struck out 10 without walking a batter. He has a 2.45 ERA in five games for Bowie.
Brnovich was one of four pitchers acquired by the Orioles from the Los Angeles Angels for Dylan Bundy in December 2019l
“He’s a competitor. He’s out there attacking with all of his weapons,” Ramsey said. “He’s another guy that’s really growing every time he takes the mound. What is this, his [13th] professional outing? He’s learning on the fly, and he’s doing a really good job of it.”
After the Angels drafted Brnovich in the eighth round in 2019, they declined to pitch him that season, as they do with many of their picks.
“Credit to him, he’s really starting to use his changeup a lot more, which is a newer approach for him,” Ramsey said. “He didn’t necessarily use that as much. It’s really paying dividends. He’s another one of those smart guys who’s got an idea of what to do. He’s always asking good questions, wanting to learn more, how to apply, how to pitch, what else he can do, things like that. He’s another guy that’s been a lot of fun to be a part of his growth process.”
Brian Gonzalez update: In 2014 after the Orioles forfeited their first two draft picks for signing free agents Ubaldo Jimenéz and Nelson Cruz, the Orioles drafted Brian Gonzalez in the third round. The left-hander spent seven seasons with the Orioles, topping out at Bowie in 2018 and 2019.
Last year, Gonzalez was assigned to the alternate site and, while the Orioles were impressed with him, they didn’t place him on the 40-man roster. He signed with the Colorado Rockies as a minor league free agent.
Gonzalez was the losing pitcher in Thursday night’s game, allowing three unearned runs in the sixth inning.
Around the minors: In other games, Kevin Smith (1-3) allowed five runs in three innings as Triple-A Norfolk lost to Gwinnett, 8-1. … Shortstop Gunnar Henderson had three hits as High-A Aberdeen lost to Hudson Valley, 10-9, in 11 innings. Hudson Valley scored four runs in the top of the 11th, and the IronBirds scored three runs in the bottom of the 11th. Leftfielder Shayne Fontana also had three hits. … Noah Denoyer allowed a run on three hits in six innings in Low-A Delmarva’s 3-2 loss to Lynchburg.
Notes: The Orioles optioned infielder Kelvin Gutierrez to Triple-A Norfolk. Gutierrez hit .174 (4-for-23) with two RBIs in eight games. … Ravens coach John Harbaugh will throw out the first pitch for Sunday’s games. … MLB.com’s Jim Callis reported that the Orioles signed outfielder Reed Trimble, their pick in Competitive Balance Round B, to an $800,000 contract. The team has not announced the signing.