There are a few ways the Orioles could go with their rotation come opening day on July 24. They could have the traditional five-man look or go with a six-man rotation. If pitchers are not built up enough yet, teams can even piggyback starters, where one pitches the first half of the game and another the rest.
They could also go with an opener.
If they do sometimes use a starter in that role - following a reliever and becoming the so-called bulk pitcher - they have two pitchers with a lot of experience doing that last year. Lefty Tommy Milone pitched in 16 games following an opener for the 2019 Seattle Mariners and went 3-7 with a 4.88 ERA in those games. His season ERA was about the same at 4.76. Lefty Wade LeBlanc followed an opener 13 times last season, also with Seattle, and had an ERA of 4.09 in those games. That was well under his season ERA of 5.71 in 2019.
LeBlanc had five bullpen outings where he went six innings or more, allowing one earned run or less. That was the most such games in the major leagues since Boston’s Bob Stanley had five in 1982. During the first spring training, I asked LeBlanc about being used as the bulk pitcher.
“It was an experiment,” he said. “And when the team is cutting your paychecks, you’ve got to do what they tell you to do. You know, there were times when it was good. When it works out well, everyone is on board for it. But when it struggles, there are some questions. It is what it is. You put your head down and try to get as many outs as you can. My job is to be ready when they tell me to come in.”
The Orioles have used an opener very sparingly but their American League East foe, the Tampa Bay Rays, have made it an art form. Tampa Bay finished second in the majors in team ERA last year at 3.65. They used an opener 43 times and went 27-16 in those games. The win percentage of .628 in games with an opener was better than their win percentage in other games at .580. The team ERA in games started by an opener was 3.87.
One player that could provide the Orioles an intriguing opener candidate is right-hander Hunter Harvey. He’s a former starter and his stuff has played up in relief. Harvey could begin the game and cut it loose for an inning and two to hopefully get his team off to a fast start on the mound.
Then we’d see a pretty big contrast for the hitters with Harvey touching the high 90s followed by a Milone or LeBlanc throwing 86 or 87 mph with their fastballs while adding an off-speed assortment. It would be a big adjustment initially for batters. Of course, that would mean Harvey is not around for the late innings.
More on O’s testing: Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias added further insight yesterday to the Orioles’ process to test their players for COVID-19. Elias revealed that not only are the Orioles following the Major League Baseball protocols in testing, but they have gone above and beyond them. He said anyone around the players is getting regular testing.
Elias noted that sometimes a player could be held out but will not be positive for the virus. He mentioned the possibility of false positives and also noted that sometimes players are part of contact tracing (they may have been around someone infected) that keeps them off the field while they await a final result. Someone could be told to quarantine during contact tracing, for instance.
“We are not cutting any corners (with our testing),” said Elias. “As we have from the beginning, we are taking this as serious as any club and we’re going to continue to do so. It’s going to be group health first and baseball second in a lot of circumstances this year. But that’s just the way it is.”
Elias also clarified a few things about the 60-man player pool yesterday. A team can add to their pool from outside their organization with traditional waiver claims or by signing a free agent. Elias also said opening day is not the deadline for the player pool and that players could be added even after opening day if a club chooses to do that.
Draft update: The Orioles announced two more draft pick signings yesterday. They officially added third-round draft pick, shortstop Anthony Servideo and fourth-round pick, high school third baseman Coby Mayo. The club has announced the signings of five of its six picks. And they have an agreement with their fifth-round pick, high school pitcher Carter Baumler. So they are going to go 6-for-6 in signings.
Here is the rundown:
* No. 2 pick Heston Kjerstad signed for $5.2 million ($2,589,900 under slot).
* No. 30 pick Jordan Westburg signed at slot for $2,365,500.
* No. 39 pick Hudson Haskin signed at slot for $1,906,800.
* No. 74 pick Servideo signed at $950,000 ($105,800 over slot).
* No. 103 pick Mayo signed at $1.75 million ($1,184,500 over slot).
* No. 133 pick Baumler agreed at $1.5 million ($1,077,700 over slot).
So the savings on Kjerstad in signing bonus allowed the Orioles to pay the last three picks a combined total of $2,368,000 over slot. Now we wait several years to see how this small class looks on the field. Signing bonuses are interesting, but they won’t determine how a player fares in his career.
In the 2013 draft, for instance, the Orioles selected outfielder Josh Hart No. 37 overall and he signed for $1.45 million. He never made it to Double-A. With the 249th pick, they selected Trey Mancini and he signed for $151,900. He did make it past Double-A.
Finally, the Orioles will play their first of what should be many intrasquad games tonight. Milone will start for one team and Thomas Eshelman for the other. Manager Brandon Hyde said 16 position players would take part in a game that will last 7 1/2 innings.