Just as the Orioles managed to fill out their summer camp roster with outfielders Anthony Santander and Dwight Smith Jr. returning to Camden Yards this week, they’ve become unsure about the availability of their No. 1 starter on opening day.
Manager Brandon Hyde announced the switch this afternoon in his Zoom conference call with the media.
“John Means has just got a little bit of a dead arm, a little bit of fatigue, so we just want to hold him off just to be sure,” Hyde said. “Obviously, the two-month season is the most important thing, so we want to be overly cautious with him.”
The Orioles found out about Means’ condition a few days ago.
“We just wanted to hold him off,” Hyde said. “We’re kind of just monitoring him day to day, and we decided today to have him skip tomorrow and to give him a little more rest.”
Means is supposed to pitch Friday night at Fenway Park, opposing the Red Sox’s Nathan Eovaldi. The start might be in jeopardy, but the Orioles aren’t ready to tackle that subject.
“Too early for that,” Hyde said.
Dead-arm periods are common in spring training, but a summer camp is new to baseball. Means experienced a similar condition around this time last year - not exactly the same, according to Hyde, but along those lines - and the team’s lone All-Star representative posted a 4.85 ERA and 1.203 WHIP in the second half.
The arm wasn’t quite as fast or as strong.
“That was the middle part of the year,” Hyde said. “He’s just got a little fatigue going, and we care so much about him that I just want to make sure we’re taking care of him and we’re doing the right thing for him and he is with us for two months. Such an important part of our rotation.”
Means is the only confirmed member of the rotation, though Alex Cobb and Wade LeBlanc are set up behind him and are supposed to start the two exhibitions against the Nationals. Asher Wojciechowski pitched last night and could slot behind LeBlanc.
Hyde said the club won’t make any cuts prior to Sunday’s game and the roster could remain intact through the exhibitions.
“We’re going to try to keep as many guys as we can right now, just because I need some backup players for the exhibitions,” Hyde said. “Like tomorrow, there may be a few guys who play all nine innings, but I’m going to have the starters play the biggest bulk of the game but have guys there just in case.
“You never know with exhibition games, how long they last. I don’t want anybody out there standing on defense for four hours, so I want to play accordingly and make sure we have some backups there. So we’re going to keep the guys that are in camp with us through at least tomorrow. I think we’re just kind of day-to-day with all that right now.
“The 24th is the most important day. I feel really good about how we are physically right now. I think guys are ready to play games and in game shape, so now for me it’s facing another uniform, continuing to practice and tightening some things up. I really want to keep these guys healthy these next few days before opening day.”
Santander and Smith won’t make the trip to Philadelphia. They took live batting practice earlier today against relievers Branden Kline and Eric Hanhold and will do so again on Sunday versus pitchers who will be given the work to stay sharp.
“I think Santander, if everything works out, he’s getting really close,” Hyde said. “He’s doing defensive drills right now, his legs feel good, he’s swinging the bat great. So I think you could possibly see him in a few days.”
Hyde said the orange-versus-white intrasquad series is over. The white team completed its two-game sweep last night with a 5-2 win.
The Orioles will play a limited intrasquad game later tonight, mixing up the teams in the process.
Valdez retired 12 of 14 batters last night, allowing only two hits and no runs. The non-roster invitee is making a push for a roster spot on opening day after spending the past two summers in the Mexican League.
“It’s a really interesting story,” Hyde said. “He’s a pitch-maker in that he’s able to utilize both sides of the plate, change his speeds. I was sitting behind home plate last night. He might have missed one or two spots the entire four innings. Really getting guys out in front with a great changeup he throws from different arm angles. A slider that he throws from different arm angles. As well as he can locate his fastball to both sides of the plate. And even though it plays in the mid-to-upper 80s at times, it plays a little firmer because that changeup is almost like a screwball in that he can really shape it to dive down and arm side.
“I’d just like to continue to take a look at the guy. Every time he’s pitched for us he’s had a lot of success. There’s not a whole lot of panic there. He’s really confident on the mound. He’s done it for a long time and I think he’s got as good a shot as anybody. We’re just going to continue to take a look at him.”