More on Orioles' pitching projections changing on first day of camp

SARASOTA, Fla. – Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter used to make a point about the unpredictability of baseball by quoting one of his favorite sayings.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.

It’s supposed to apply to life, but it also works with sports.

Think you have every angle covered before spring training and discover on the first day that two-fifths of the starting rotation appears headed for the injured list.  

Kyle Bradish has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the irritation noticeable while working out in January. He’s definite for the IL.

John Means is fine but also a month behind in his preparation due to the elbow soreness that surfaced during a simulated game before the Division Series. Manager Brandon Hyde said he’s assuming that Means goes on the IL. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias suggested that everyone do the math, which also points to the same conclusion.

Team and media plans were shattered. Shadoobie, shattered. But the Orioles vow to keep rolling.

The roster projections took some hits. Corbin Burnes is the undisputed No. 1 and Grayson Rodriguez also is a lock, moving up to No. 2 in the rotation with Bradish out. Dean Kremer went from favorite for the back end to likely No. 3. Certainly a lock.

Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin seemed destined for the bullpen but now appear on solid rotation footing, though Bruce Zimmermann will make his pitch, so to speak.

One purpose of camp is to hold competitions for open spots, but it might be a little too early to plug Chayce McDermott, Cade Povich or Justin Armbruester – ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s No. 9, 10 and 18 prospects - into the major league rotation in March. Seth Johnson, ranked 14th, is recovered from Tommy John surgery but has made only one start above Single-A.

Jonathan Heasley went from long shot to not-as-long shot after the Orioles acquired him from the Royals in a December trade.

Hyde agreed with a reporter’s description of the last few spots as being up for grabs.

“I think we have competition in the bullpen,” he said, “we have competition in the back end of the rotation.”

Johnson said he feels good, feels healthy, and the smile on his face offered further proof.

“It’s nice being on that side after rehabbing most of last year,” he said, “so yeah, feeling good.”

Johnson was stretched out to three innings in his last two starts and doesn’t think he has any restrictions in camp.

“Full-go,” he said. “The reins are off. Liberating.”

His 2024 spring training is going to be much different. He can be one of the guys again instead of isolated by a rehab program.

“Last year I was just kind of trying to stay out of everyone’s way,” he said. “This year I’m just trying to participate and see where I stack up with everyone else.”

The Orioles could assign Johnson to Bowie again rather than bump him a level. He hasn’t received any information.

“I’ve got no idea,” he said. “Just wherever they put me, I’ve got to go pitch anyway.”

The majors are the ultimate goal. Maybe it happens later this summer. Johnson immediately landed on the top Orioles prospects lists after they got him at the 2022 deadline in a three-team trade that included Tampa Bay and sent first baseman Trey Mancini to the Astros. Scouts love his stuff. It seems like only a matter of time.

Johnson first wants to get through the season healthy. A debut with the Orioles won’t happen unless he’s good physically.

The bullpen also is in flux, more so than during the beginning of the offseason. And it wasn’t settled back then, either.

Craig Kimbrel, Yennier Cano, Danny Coulombe and Cionel Pérez are certainties if able to stay healthy. Dillon Tate’s chances improved with more space in the ‘pen. The same can be said for Jacob Webb and Mike Baumann, who are out of options. Keegan Akin can provide length. So can Zimmermann if he isn’t in the rotation.

Bryan Baker and Nick Vespi also can benefit. Maybe Wandisson Charles becomes the leading dark horse candidate to head north.

Maybe someone else emerges out of nowhere.

Hyde needs the games to start before he can figure it out.

“Hopefully, there’s a Yennier Cano there in the locker room or Félix Bautista from a couple of years ago,” Hyde said. “We got Danny Coulombe in the last day of spring training, so you never know what’s going to happen throughout these next six weeks, as well as in the beginning part of the year. But let’s hope we can find a few more guys like those guys.”

* First baseman Ryan O’Hearn was the last arbitration-eligible player in the organization to sign his contract, and just in the nick of time.

O’Hearn avoided a hearing by agreeing Wednesday to a $3.5 million contract that included a $7.5 million club option for 2025.

“I was going to leave today. I’m glad I don’t have to go to Arizona,” O’Hearn said.

“It’s part of the game. Obviously, arbitration is a process all its own. I’m excited we could get something done. I don’t have to go to Arizona, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Now I can just focus on camp and baseball stuff every day.”

What about the option?

“Well, I hope they pick it up because that will mean I would have had a good season,” he said. “I like it here, love it here. If I can stick around for another couple years, that would be amazing. So, club option’s great. Hopefully, I play well enough and force them to exercise it.”

* News of the Angelos family agreeing to sell a control stake in the club to David Rubenstein for $1.725 billion, with the Baltimore native, co-founder and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group becoming the controlling owner upon the close of the transaction, brought some predicable reactions among players.

Surprised by it, unsure how it impacts the team, and aware that greater spending is a possible outcome.

“It was kind of out of the blue for us,” Kremer said. “But thankful for what the Angelos family did and how they treated us over the last however many years. But we’re excited for this new group to come in and put their mark on it.”

“I didn’t even hear anything until it actually sold,” said infielder Gunnar Henderson.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty cool. I’ve never really been through this situation before, so I don’t know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the future.”

A significant increase in payroll hasn’t been stated but is an assumption in many circles.

“I definitely think that that’s a possibility,” Kremer said. “Obviously, we don’t get involved in the books but that’s kind of our hope.”

Hyde understands the magnitude of the news but is preoccupied at the moment.

“I think I’m just really focused on our club right now, you know?” he said. “It’s something I follow, but I have 60-something guys in there and about 40 staff that we’re trying to put things together on a daily basis. We’ll see how it goes, but I don’t have anything to really comment on besides that.”

“I think I can talk about it in kind of limited ways right now,” Elias said. “It’s not official or through MLB but there have been public announcements by both parties and the club and it’s obviously something that I’m aware of and everybody here is following. I don’t see it as particularly impactful right now. We’re all here in spring training with a really good team and we’ve had continuity since I’ve been here, and it looks to me like we’re just going to get more of that. And everything I’m hearing and seeing, it’s all very positive, but right now with the time of year that we’re in, and the fact that the team is in go-for-it mode, we’re focused on that, and if there’s any alteration to the way that we’re handling daily business in baseball ops, I haven’t heard that yet and don’t expect that.

“I’m looking forward to learning more, more conversations, whatever’s next, but we’re business as usual as we have been. There’s just been a lot lately where it seems like we have a lot of good momentum in this organization, and it seems like there’s some positive things there that would be characterized as part of that.”

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