How it might look in 2020: The O’s rotation

Over the next few weeks, let’s take a look at some aspects of the Orioles and how they were shaping up at the time that spring training was halted. Today, a look at the rotation.

To me the rotation was setting up this way:

No. 1 - John Means: He was slated to be the opening day starter if the opener was going to be on March 26. Everything was pointing to that and Means was on schedule for that start. It just had not been announced yet. Means had a solid spring and looked confident and ready to go as spring training closed.

After a year when he went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA, made the All-Star team and finished second for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, he looks poised to do as well. He’ll be challenged to do that, but he used spring to work on his curveball, which he would like to use more. Bringing it into the mix would give him a second breaking pitch to go with his already improved slider.

For now, he is the ace.

Cobb-Home-Opener-sidebar.jpgNo. 2 - Alex Cobb: He made just three starts in 2019, and getting back a healthy Cobb would be huge for the rotation. During camp he didn’t show any ill effects from last year’s hip and knee procedures. He did have a blister issue, and that held him out. So did an illness at the start of camp. But on March 12, the last day reporters were allowed at Ed Smith Stadium, we saw Cobb throw in a simulated game, and all looked well. The Orioles need him and they need his innings in 2020.

No. 3 - Asher Wojciechowski: The guy with the longest last name in club history is likely going to be slotted in somewhere from No. 3 to No. 5. He went 4-8 with a 4.92 ERA after the Orioles acquired him last July 1 from Cleveland.

He had a solid spring and said that while he was quite comfortable in camp, he wasn’t taking for granted that he had a rotation spot. He did try to add a fourth pitch in Florida, throwing a split-change to add to his four-seam fastball, slider and cutter.

“It’s a pitch I want to use,” he said. “I would like to have a fourth pitch. My three other pitches are really good pitches. So, I’m going to work on it here. If I can develop it to where I feel comfortable using it in the season, then yeah, it would be great to have a fourth weapon.”

No. 4 - Wade LeBlanc: The oldest player on the team at 35, LeBlanc looked like an easy bet to the make the rotation as we all headed out of Florida. He threw his 86 and 87 mph fastballs in camp and used location and a nice pitch mix to keep hitters from squaring him up often.

LeBlanc went 6-7 with a 5.71 ERA last year, and out of pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park his ERA was 8.21. But from 2016-2018 he pitched to a 3.91 ERA with a 2.1 walk rate and 1.4 homer rate. The Orioles would take that in a heartbeat this year.

And while LeBlanc had his own pitching to worry about in spring, he also said he’s plenty willing to dispense advice to any of his young teammates.

“You know, job No. 1 is to get outs and give the team the chance to win,” he said. “Job No. 2 is to kind of be there for those guys that are experiencing this for the first time and going through the battles for the first time. It is a definitely a blessing to be around for that long to where you do have job No. 2 as well.”

No. 5 - Tommy Milone: Signed as a minor league free agent Feb. 13, Milone was trying to shake off a neck issue and get back on the mound when camp ended. He was doing that. He was still a strong candidate for the season-opening rotation.

Last season with Seattle he went 4-10 with a 4.76 ERA with 1.9 walks and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He pitched to a 2.81 ERA in June. Over a nine-year career he has gone 50-47 with a 4.47 ERA and 1.316 WHIP. These numbers would play just fine at the back end of the Baltimore rotation.

If this is the five, you are looking at a rotation with three lefties. Last season, outside of Means, the O’s got just seven starts out of southpaws. Five of those were late in the year by Ty Blach. They got one each from Richard Bleier and Sean Gilmartin.

If the rest of the pitchers are not in the Baltimore rotation, that leaves a large group that got some extended outings in the spring. Thomas Eshelman, David Hess, Chandler Shepherd, Kohl Stewart and Blach all have options remaining. Hess was optioned to Triple-A yesterday.

Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann were all in big league camp, and in fact Zimmermann remains among the 50 technically still on the camp roster.

There will be a crunch for rotation spots at Triple-A Norfolk with all the above pitchers and young guys like Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells and possibly Michael Baumann under consideration.

The organization could solve that crunch by sending some of the group either to Double-A or the Triple-A bullpen, or by trading or releasing pitchers. They’ll figure it out.

The 2019 Orioles rotation posted an ERA of 5.57 which topped only the Los Angeles Angels (5.64) in the AL, where the rotation average ERA was 4.76.

The O’s rotation rated 10th in innings (789) in the league. They were ninth in average against (.271) but 15th in both OPS (.845) and homers allowed (179). They were ninth in WHIP (1.41).

So this projection makes it a starting five with four players 30 or older. That’s a lot for a rebuilding team, but the transition to the younger pitchers from the farm is clearly on the way.

Hearing from the Orioles: Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and senior vice president of community development and communications Jennifer Grondahl spoke with local reporters via a conference call yesterday. See what Elias had to say here, and Grondahl’s comments here. Check out yesterday’s roster cuts here.

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