For the second season in a row, the Orioles must switch opening day starters and deny the winner of the competition his first career assignment.
John Means has been scratched with left arm fatigue and replaced by veteran left-hander Tommy Milone. Manager Brandon Hyde made the announcement earlier today in his Zoom conference call, delivering news that was anticipated for the past few days.
Means hadn’t been cleared to throw until playing catch today and the team won’t risk a more serious injury by allowing him to pitch Friday night at Fenway Park.
The Orioles are Milone’s seventh team. He made only six starts among 23 appearances last summer with the Mariners and posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.119 WHIP over 111 2/3 innings.
“Just talked to him a couple hours ago,” Hyde said. “Never made an opening day start before. Really excited. It’s a great feeling to be able to tell him. His reaction was priceless. He’s just really excited.
“The bottom line with Tommy is that he’d just be getting one extra days of rest, so we keep everybody on regular rest. I didn’t want to bring anybody back short. In this kind of unusual space and time when we only had a short time to get these guys ready, they’ve done an amazing job of getting ready. We just didn’t want to take the chance of bringing back somebody on short rest, and we felt that Tommy was just one day away. So he’s going to have five days before his start. It just works out for us in that way.”
The Orioles removed Means from Sunday’s exhibition start in Philadelphia due to health concerns and replaced him with Thomas Eshelman, who tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings and emerged as a candidate to face the Red Sox in the opener.
Hyde described Means as having “a little bit of a dead arm,” a common occurrence in spring training. Hyde also pointed out that Means had a similar issue last summer after being the lone Orioles representative at the All-Star Game.
Means registered a 2.50 ERA and 1.077 WHIP in the first half and a 4.85 ERA and 1.203 WHIP after the break. He rebounded in September with a 3.82 ERA and 1.043 WHIP in five starts.
“I wouldn’t consider John Means as an injury. I think it’s just really more of a little bit of fatigue,” Hyde said.
“We’re just being cautious with him. He played catch today, he threw the ball well, felt great, so it’s not going to be long before you see him on the mound. He’ll just probably miss a few days and be back out there.”
The decision to anoint Means as the opening day starter didn’t require meetings that ran late into the night. He was the obvious choice based on his 2019 season, which included a runner-up finish in voting for American League Rookie of the Year, and the lack of tempting alternatives.
Alex Cobb is behind the other starters after making only three April appearances and undergoing hip and knee surgeries. He worked through four innings last night against the Nationals and faced one batter in the fifth to run his pitch count to 56.
The Orioles signed Milone and Wade LeBlanc to minor league deals and selected their contracts, but they’re supposed to be middle-to-back-end arms. Circumstances and some impressive work in summer training camp have pushed Milone to the front of the line.
Milone retired 15 of 16 batters in a recent intrasquad game. He worked five innings on Saturday and allowed three runs and five hits with five strikeouts.
Cobb was supposed to start last year’s opener at Yankee Stadium before going on the injured list. Andrew Cashner replaced him.
Milone is the fifth different opening day starter used by the Orioles in the past five seasons. He follows Cashner, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman.
The Orioles won eight consecutive openers before last year’s 7-2 loss to the Yankees. They’ve gone 43-23 all-time in openers and 15-4 in their last 19.
LeBlanc threw six innings today and exceeded 90 pitches in a simulated game at Camden Yards and should start the third game of the season - at least the way he’s lined up. Dwight Smith Jr. and Chance Sisco hit against him.
Sisco also did some throwing, and his sore right triceps muscle has improved.
Hyde indicated that Hunter Harvey is going to need “a little bit of time” due to his own arm fatigue.
“We’re obviously going to be conservative with Hunter as well, because of his past, and we’re going to try to get him as healthy as possible before he gets out on the mound,” Hyde said.
Dillon Tate still hasn’t thrown while recovering from a swollen right elbow.