The first thing to know about Wade LeBlanc is that he’s heard all of your “Friends” jokes.
I’ve never asked him about it, but I’m playing a strong hunch.
LeBlanc experienced a drop-off last summer after a solid 2018 season with the Mariners. His ERA climbed from 3.72 to 5.71 and his WHIP from 1.179 to 1.451. He averaged 2.1 home runs per nine innings, an increase from 1.3 in each of the two previous seasons.
He’ll be asked about the change in roles, where he made 27 starts in 2018 and only eight among his 26 appearances last year. About the move into bulk work behind the opener.
In his only appearance against the Orioles last season, LeBlanc followed Tayler Scott into the game with two outs in the top of the first and tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts in the Mariners’ 5-2 win in Seattle.
(The Orioles claimed Scott off waivers later that month. He signed a one-year contract with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball in December. And you know what happened to LeBlanc.)
The former second-round pick out of the University of Alabama got rolled on the road. He posted a 4.00 ERA and 1.222 WHIP in 15 games at T-Mobile Park and an 8.21 ERA and 1.784 WHIP in 11 games away from it. He also registered a 4.66 ERA and 1.330 WHIP over 13 appearances in the first half and a 7.04 ERA and a 1.602 WHIP over the same number of games following the break.
LeBlanc made three appearances in September, none after the 13th, and allowed nine runs and 13 hits with five walks in seven innings.
In seven career appearances against the Orioles, LeBlanc has posted 2.81 ERA with 10 earned runs allowed in 32 innings. He’s surrendered seven earned runs and 11 hits in seven innings at Camden Yards.
The only start in Baltimore came on June 27, 2018, when he allowed three earned runs (four total) and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings in the Mariners’ 8-7 win in 11 innings. Danny Valencia hit a two-run homer in the first. Zack Britton blew the save by allowing two runs in the ninth.
The Orioles will pay LeBlanc $800,000 if he’s on the club. He made $2.5 million last season and the Mariners declined his $5 million option.
The contract also included options for 2021 and 2022. LeBlanc didn’t get near them.
A minor league contract from the Orioles seems like a typical low-risk move. It includes an opt-out clause in March, so he can bolt for a better offer if unable to make the club. We’ve seen it happen pretty much every spring. Players get their release after being told they’d be included in the next round of cuts.
Infielder Alcides Escobar comes to mind.
The Orioles view LeBlanc as having the “inside track” on a rotation spot. John Means and Alex Cobb are the only starters assured of being in it as long as they’re healthy, from what I’ve heard, but Asher Wojciechowski is expected to join them unless he completely falls apart in camp.
Cobb has been throwing in Sarasota, well ahead of the Feb. 11 report date, with no discomfort in his hip or knee. The Orioles need his innings and leadership on the staff.
Manager Brandon Hyde watched Cobb’s side session earlier this month at minicamp and provided an update last night on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
“He looked great, he felt great,” Hyde said, “so that’s huge news for us.”