Whenever Orioles reliever Joey Krehbiel passes by one of his teammates completing an interview, he asks — with a perfect blend of sincerity and sarcasm — whether they said his name. As reporters surrounded Jordan Lyles’ locker in Baltimore’s clubhouse Wednesday minutes after he finished off a complete game, the 31-year-old right-hander yelled out, “Joey Krehbiel!”
It was just another case of him picking up a member of the Orioles’ bullpen.
The lone veteran on Baltimore’s pitching staff, Lyles has served as an exemplar for its inexperienced members. Wednesday night’s nine-inning performance against the Detroit Tigers served as the latest showcase.
“He’s our leader, basically,” rookie starter Kyle Bradish said. “We call him Dad. That’s the running joke, even though he’s not too much older than us, but he’s got that experience.”
Lyles entered this season with just over 10 years of major league service time, twice as much as every other current member of the Orioles’ rotation combined. That status alone has earned him respect in Baltimore’s clubhouse, but the way he’s performed on the mound has impressed his teammates, as well.
He has not been an overwhelmingly dominant pitcher, but his 170 innings are the most an Oriole has thrown in manager Brandon Hyde’s four seasons. After Wednesday’s one-run outing, his ERA is a modest 4.50, an exact match for the result of a baseline quality start of three earned runs over six innings. Including Wednesday, his 12 quality starts are twice as many as an other Baltimore pitcher this season and tied with John Means for the most in a Hyde-led campaign.
Lyles said earlier this season he desires to pitch deep into games “for the boys,” meaning his fellow pitchers and particularly those in the bullpen, many of whom are going through the grind of a full major league season for the first time.
“He wants to put us in the best situation possible,” Krehbiel said. “He wants to give everything he can. Whether it’s 80 pitches or 115 pitches, he never wants to come out unless he’s taken out.”
Wednesday’s start-to-finish outing might prove to be his last home start for the Orioles. The way their schedule lines up over the next two weeks, Lyles won’t pitch at Camden Yards again this season unless Hyde unexpectedly deploys him on short or extra reset. His free-agent deal with Baltimore last season included only one guaranteed year, with an $11 million team option with a $1 million buyout for 2023.
Bradish, Tyler Wells, Dean Kremer and Austin Voth have all had stretches of success as Baltimore’s starters this year, and each could get the chance to build on that next season. Means, expected to pair with Lyles to form a guiding tandem in the Orioles’ rotation, made only two starts before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery but is expected to return early in 2023. Top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, the former at Triple-A Norfolk and the latter working out of Baltimore’s bullpen, could each contend for starting spots in spring training.
With the added possibility of the Orioles boosting their rotation through free agency and trades, it’s fair to wonder how much space there might be for Lyles next season. But he’s made a lasting impact regardless.
“When he’s out there, there’s nothing that really rattles him,” Kremer said. “He can give up two in the first, and then he can salvage his outing and go seven. Last year, if I gave up two runs in the first, I’m out by the third, so watching him just be unfazed by a couple hits or a walk or whatever has really made it easier for me to be like, ‘OK, I can do it.’”
Dad jokes aside — for Father’s Day, the Orioles’ other starters had shirts made with Lyles’ face and the words “Best Dad Ever,” with Lyles receiving a “No. 1 Dad” top — Lyles is not much older than his fellow pitchers; Hall is Baltimore’s only active arm younger than 26. But his time in the majors has made him a resource, “someone who’s been around forever who has all the answers,” as Krehbiel put it.
In many ways, reliever Keegan Akin said, Lyles is an ideal role model, appearing in 12 major league seasons without top-tier velocity. He’s only missed one turn through Baltimore’s rotation this season, a stomach bug that has flared up at times costing him an outing earlier this week against the Toronto Blue Jays. Of the five Orioles with the most starts this year, only Lyles has avoided an injured list stint.
“He’s just a great example of what all of us want to turn out to be like at some point,” Akin said. “Whether you got two days in the show or 10 years, he treats everybody the same.”
The consistency on the mound is as appreciated as it is off it. Many Orioles pitchers noted how Lyles treats the day after a bad outing the same as that following a good one.
“You know what you’re gonna get out of him,” reliever Bryan Baker said. “It’s something that everybody’s chasing in this game.”
As much as they learn from watching Lyles operate, his teammates noted how open he is about a variety of topics. He’s not a vocal leader, but he’s happy to answer any questions they bring to him. Lyles said that open communication is far more important than any other aspect of that dynamic.
Wells joked that he’s Lyles’ “own little shadow,” consistently querying him about baseball and life. Questions centered on the former often get back to the concept of simplifying the game, avoiding the overthinking that can plague a young pitcher. Wells said he hopes to share a rotation with Lyles again next season.
“I love Jordan,” Wells said. “He’s a good guy to just be around. Whether it’s no words are said or a lot of words are said, you just know that you’re in good company, and I think that that has played a huge role this year for us pitchers.”
And like a father, Lyles has been proud to see them grow.
“I’m glad that they were able to see that tonight, to have something in their minds,” Lyles said of his outings. “A leadership role, it’s more just open dialogue. They can come to me with anything. I can ask them questions, and at the end of the day, it’s all about comfortability with them being able to come talk to me, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Thursday, 7:05 p.m.
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM