Questions and curiosities about the Orioles’ second half

The Orioles open the second half of their season Friday night against the Rays and host two more teams, the Nationals for two games and the Red Sox for three, before going back out to the West Coast.

(Quick, when is the last time they’ve played consecutive series of four, two and three games? Someone contact STATS or the other Elias.)

There are some lingering questions and curiosities hanging over the team, including whether it finishes again with the worst record in baseball and gets the honor of choosing first in the draft. And whether John Means can set a franchise record for most storylines.

Coming up next: How many pairs of sneakers he owned as a kid.

I’ve got dibs on the “favorite toothpaste” angle.

Means actually is one of the curiosities. Can he keep trending in the same direction after the All-Star break?

There’s no reason to believe that the rookie is a fluke. His pitches play. The fastball with the increased velocity, the changeup that’s become a plus for him, and the two breaking balls that he’s incorporated as necessary adjustments - though his curveball usage declined in his last two starts.

He isn’t intimidated on the mound. Surprised to have made the club out of spring training but never feeling like he wasn’t worthy.

It’s no longer a small sample size with Means. He’s appeared in 18 games and made 14 starts. He’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in his last six outings and tied his career high on July 3 by working seven innings.

Not a huge sample size, but a significant one.

* Do the Orioles promote Hunter Harvey as a reliever?

It sure seems like it’s going to happen as long as he continues to avoid injury. Harvey’s last five appearances have come out of the bullpen - three with Double-A Bowie and two with Triple-A Norfolk - since he allowed eight runs and nine hits June 7 in a four-inning start in Portland, Maine.

Harvey tossed three scoreless innings in each of his three relief appearances with the Baysox and moved up to the International League for the first time in his professional career. He hasn’t surrendered a run with the Tides, though he worked only one inning Friday in Charlotte, walked three batters and let an inherited runner score.

The Orioles bullpen arguably has been the biggest source of frustration for manager Brandon Hyde. Relievers have combined for a 6.21 ERA and 1.562 WHIP in 347 2/3 innings. Heavy usage, light return.

Seventy-two of the staff’s 170 home runs have been surrendered by the bullpen.

Hyde can’t find length or consistency from the unit, and Harvey could be a problem-solver - think of The Wolf in “Pulp Fiction” - if he can back up a struggling starter. Maybe the opener comes back into play if Harvey can cover the necessary innings in relief.

The Orioles have made a full, healthy season from Harvey the No. 1 goal. They haven’t given up on him as a starter. But his new role could be his ticket to the majors in 2019.

* What will the Orioles do about center field?

Keon Broxton is batting .198/.245/.323 in 32 games since the Orioles acquired him from the Mets for international signing bonus slots. He’s struck out 46 times in 96 at-bats, a total waste of his speed.

Broxton plays a nice center field. The guy covers a lot of ground and has made some sensational catches at the fence, coming in and racing into the gaps. But the issues at the plate make it hard to envision him as a long-term solution, and the Orioles don’t really have the luxury of carrying a defensive replacement, though they need one in center because the bench is lacking someone with real experience or an acceptable level of trust at the position.

Stewart-Swing-Back-Orange-sidebar.jpgThe Orioles are curious about Anthony Santander’s ability to play center and he could get more looks in the second half, assuming he stays in the majors after DJ Stewart is ready to come off the injured list. Otherwise, Stevie Wilkerson is the alternative if he stays in the majors after Stewart returns.

The options aren’t plentiful with Austin Hays returning to Norfolk tonight, where he’s 8-for-37, after coming off the injured list and Cedric Mullins batting .205/.272/.306 in 66 games.

Non-roster outfielder Mason Williams is batting .289/.349/.460 with eight doubles, two triples, 11 home runs and 41 RBIs in 73 games and could be next to audition.

* What does Hyde do with the rotation?

The question could be directed at executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias as he keeps searching for potential upgrades and bargains.

Veteran acquisitions Nate Karns and Dan Straily haven’t panned out. Karns was moved to the bullpen and eventually the 60-day injured list, and he’s still pitching in the Gulf Coast League, where he’s made four starts and increased his workload to two innings on July 4. Straily accepted an outright assignment to Norfolk and has tossed 10 1/3 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts.

The Orioles could give Straily another shot. In the meantime, they’re using Gabriel Ynoa and Asher Wojciechowski.

The only certainties are Means, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy, and their statuses could change closer to the trade deadline. Means seems the most likely to be held onto, based on his salary and the fact that he’s under club control long-term. He’s exactly what the Orioles are searching for, but no one is untouchable.

* Chris Davis can’t escape the attention and he’s a two-pronged question: Can he sustain the bit of momentum he built right before the break and be a productive hitter again? If not, do the Orioles keep him through the rest of the season and resist the boldest of moves with the highest-paid player in franchise history?

Davis is 6-for-12 this month with a double and two opposite-field home runs, and his .189 average is its highest since reaching .191 on May 17. He’s 10-for-26 since June 19.

If one player on the team was resistant of the break and taking four days off, it would have to be Davis. Other than the family time that it provided.

Don’t slow the roll.

Hyde figures to keep choosing his spots with Davis, who is sitting against most left-handers and the occasional right-hander, depending on matchups and how others on the team are impacted.

* Does Ryan Mountcastle make his major league debut later this summer?

Mountcastle is one of the young prospects being kept in Triple-A to further his development. He’s on a different schedule than Santander, catcher Chance Sisco and some others.

Mountcastle is only 22 years old and still trying to find a position that maybe can alter his timeline. If the Orioles will allow it to happen. They might want to resist any and all urges to promote him.

He’s a beast with the bat, slashing .307/.329/.505 with 18 doubles, a triple, 15 home runs and 51 RBIs in 80 games. He went 7-for-21 in five games before the break. I haven’t heard any concerns about his hitting.

The first five starts in left field in Mountcastle’s professional career will lead to more, which requires him to stay with the Tides.

* The obsession over catcher Adley Rutschman keeps growing. We’ve moved past whether the Orioles will draft him and if he’ll sign, and we’ve landed on his start date as a professional.

I’ve heard that he’s reporting to short-season Single-A Aberdeen this week.

The question is whether he stays there or perhaps joins Single-A Delmarva for the South Atlantic League playoffs.

Every game, every at-bat will be scrutinized because he’s the first overall pick and, as some fans view him, the face of the rebuild. He’ll catch, play first base and serve as the designated hitter. And with the hype surrounding him, I assume he can do it all at the same time.

* Will the Orioles set the major league record for home runs allowed in a single season?

They’ve surrendered 170 prior to the All-Star break, and the record is 258 by the 2016 Reds. Hyde’s team is on pace for 309.

Blame the pitching. Blame the ballpark. Blame the ball.

That’s still a ridiculous number of home runs, and avoiding the dubious mark seems impossible.

We’re not talking about breaking it. This is blowing it up like a suspicious package left unattended at the airport. Someone should pass out goggles to protect your eyes from the flying debris.

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