By: Brian Frank
Just a year and a half removed from being the Bisons closer, Bryan Baker is pitching out of the Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen – and following up a stellar rookie campaign with another terrific start to this season.
The 6’6” right-hander pitched in 57 career games for Buffalo. He first pitched for the Herd in 2019, when he was called up from Double-A New Hampshire in mid-July. He had a 3.68 ERA in 18 relief appearances for Buffalo that season. After the 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Baker established himself as Buffalo’s closer when he dominated International League batters in 2021 – recording a 1.31 ERA, striking out 48 batters in 41 1/3 innings pitched, and collecting 11 saves.
He was a casualty of Toronto’s offseason roster moves after the 2021 season and was claimed by Baltimore, where he’s gone on to become a key piece of the Orioles bullpen. Baker recently spoke with The Herd Chronicles when the Orioles were at Rogers Centre to take on the Blue Jays.
“It was right along with the lockout, so there was a lot of stuff going on that offseason,” he said of his move from the Blue Jays organization to the Orioles. “It’s been a good transition. Last year was getting acclimated with everybody in this clubhouse, kind of starting from scratch. I didn’t really know too many people over here. But it’s been awesome so far getting an opportunity here.”
Baker warming in the Rogers Centre bullpen. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
He wasted little time in making a good impression on his new organization. He had a strong spring training and made the Orioles 2022 Opening Day roster.
“I’d thrown well in the spring,” he said, “but obviously just being with a new team and not really knowing how things work over here, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. It was an awesome feeling getting to hear that news and be able to make the club for Opening Day and getting to experience that for the first time.”
Baker established himself as a big-league reliever with a solid rookie season, in which he had a 3.49 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings pitched. Now in his second full big-league season, he’s still in awe of the major-league parks he’s pitching in.
“I think everywhere we go is kind of special. I think Fenway’s up there probably. It’s just kind of a different feeling. It might be different there just because it feels so historical. You feel like it’s almost a museum, but that you’re playing ball there at the same time. That one sticks out. But I’m still not fully used to being in all these awesome environments. I’m still kind of taking it all in like a little kid. I’m just enjoying every day and I enjoy every place we go to.”
Rogers Centre, where he made his major-league debut while pitching for the 2021 Blue Jays, stands out as a special place for him.
“I love pitching in this building,” he said. “The energy and the atmosphere in here is amazing. It will always have a special place in my heart, definitely – from finally getting a breakthrough and having my debut here. It’s definitely a special place.”
Baker has a 3.30 ERA in 90 career major-league games. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
He said the adrenalin he gets when he faces his former team is no different from the feeling he gets when he faces the Orioles’ other rivals in the American League East.
“I think I get extra adrenalin against any team that’s in our division,” he explained. “I mean everybody that’s in our division is really good. I think naturally you just get a little bit of a boost facing such good competition. As competitors, we want to face the best and kind of see how our stuff stacks up against them – and that goes hand in hand with facing the Blue Jays. They’re always going to have one of the best lineups in the league. As pitchers, we’ve got to bring our ‘A’ game and that’s what we like to do. It’s really fun to be a part of.”
He believes the experience he’s gained from regularly facing major-league hitters is the biggest way he’s grown as a pitcher since pitching for Buffalo.
“I think just having another year plus of experience facing big-league hitters,” he said of how he's grown. “You’re constantly learning from mistakes and just facing really good competition, you’re always searching for ways to get outs. So, I think just general experience over the last year plus facing the best hitters in the world. It’s a constant learning experience. I think that’s been the biggest improvement for me.”
Baker is off to another superb start to the season. He has a 2.86 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched. The Orioles are also red hot. Baltimore currently has the second best record in baseball at 31-16. After just missing the playoffs last year, the O’s are looking to not only make the playoffs, but also bring home the team’s first World Series championship since 1983.
“It’s super exciting,” he said. “After having such a good year (as a team) last year and outperforming expectations – being a part of that was amazing. Carrying that mentality over to this year is what we’re trying to do. Obviously, we have a lot of talent in the room and a lot of talent in the minor leagues. Honestly, being a part of such an up and coming team with a lot of promise – it’s really cool. It kind of infuses us with energy. Just being able to be a part of this team has been an honor. It’s awesome.”
Closing out a game for the 2021 Bisons. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Even with all his major-league success, Baker still remembers his time pitching for Buffalo fondly. He was a part of the 2021 Bisons team that won the organization’s first division championship in 16 years. That team is also memorable because they split their home schedule between Trenton, New, Jersey, and Buffalo to accommodate the Blue Jays playing at Sahlen Field.
“I think just having so many good friends down there to go through that grind with,” he said of what stands out when he looks back on his time with the Herd. “With 2021 being such a roller coaster year with us playing in Trenton and moving around – it was a lot. Sometimes you look back on the days of a little bit of struggle and sometimes you realize that those were the most beautiful times.”
“I keep in touch with a bunch of guys from the ’21 Bisons still. It was such a special year. Some of my really good friends that were on that team, we reminisce all the time with random stories and just kind of looking back on memories that we made that year. It was such a big year for my career personally, and I’m sure for a lot of others, that it’s good to look back on it and kind of see where you are now and see where you were just a few years ago. That was such a special year and I definitely look back on that year a lot.”
This is the second Conversations with the Herd with Bryan Baker. To read the first conversation click here.