Making a pitch: Eshelman looks to stay in rotation battle

He can be a player that gets overlooked. When discussing the O’s rotation, others seem to get more play then he does. But he’s pitched twice in intrasquad games for the Orioles and right-hander Thomas Eshelman gave up one unearned run over three innings his first outing. In his second, he allowed one run over five innings with four strikeouts.

He’s pitched twice opposite left-hander Tommy Milone and both are in line to start the fifth game of the season. Only one will.

“It’s been fun to compete against him,” Eshelman said this afternoon. “That guy has a lot of time in the big leagues. For me to go up against him each and every outing out here has been motivation for me. I know he’s been around and for me to compete with him is fun and helps me get better.”

The 26-year-old Eshelman was acquired by the Orioles last June 10 from Philadelphia in a deal for international bonus money. He made his major league debut last July 1 at Tropicana Field and gave up two runs over five innings versus Tampa Bay. In 10 games, including four starts, for the 2019 Orioles, he went 1-2 with a 6.50 ERA.

This year, he has pitched well, both before and after baseball’s shutdown. In the first spring training, he was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA after three outings. He gave just one run in three innings in Tampa against a frontline Yankees lineup. He was making a case for a roster spot.

Then he faced Toronto on March 11 in Dunedin. In just two innings, he gave up four doubles and three homers, allowing nine runs. The next day, spring training was shut down.

“I kind of wish that the quarantine happened a day earlier,” Eshelman said with a laugh. “But it was good to kind of hit pause for me after that one especially and go back and refine some things. I took that opportunity and ran with it, and (have) been feeling good in the past couple of outings I’ve had here.”

Eshelman-Delivers-at-LAA-Gray-Sidebar.jpgEshelman tried to put quarantine time to good use and said the O’s coaching staff kept close tabs on the players. Some of those interactions helped keep the pitchers ready and we’ve seen good results from most of them in the intrasquad games.

“(Bullpen coach Darren) Holmes and (pitching coach Doug) Brocail did an unbelievable job with us in making sure we had an open line of communication and making sure each and every one of us came into camp prepared to play this season,” he said. “Each and every one of us took it seriously and we went home and made sure we were still in shape in order for this to happen. Hats off to our staff and our coaches for being able to push us in the right direction.”

Beyond the keeping in shape part the last few months, over the winter Eshelman got feedback from another department with the club.

“I think our analytical department did a fantastic job of helping us understand what we do good,” he said. “I kind of took that and ran with it a little bit. What pitches to throw in certain situations, where to throw them and how much should you throw them. So they broke it down to us and I took that and ran with it. Continuously learn on that side of things and expand on it.”

So soon we will see how it all comes together for a pitching staff with hopes of making solid improvement. Opening night in Boston is a week away.

“I’m excited. Last year was my first time around a big league staff, so I really didn’t have a whole grasp on the situation,” Eshelman said. “But those guys were unbelievable to me and welcomed me with open arms. To be around this staff right not, it’s a little bit different. These guys have been around the league for a long time now and they have little things, ins and outs of the game, that they share that you haven’t heard.”

Eshelman was outrighted off the 40-man roster in early September and he would need to find his way back onto the 40-man if the O’s use him during the shortened 60-game season.

He said he’s been impressed by the protocols in place to try and keep players healthy for the coming season. He’s trying to do his part and is spending a lot of time at home when he’s not been at the ballpark.

“We had a team meeting about it and everyone is pretty serious about it,” he said. “So we understand the consequences that will happen if we do get exposed to this virus and what it can do to affect our team as a whole. You see (Anthony) Santander and Dwight (Smith Jr.) - they’re out for a long time. So that is the kind of the aspect that we have to go about it and understand the consequences as a squad and how it will affect our season. So we just have to understand the safety procedures to follow. Our training staff here has done an unbelievable job in making sure that we can follow the restrictions.”

By the way, both Santander and Smith are now back as Smith was cleared to return today. Manager Brandon Hyde said Santander had a strong live BP today and seems to expect him to be on the opening day roster.

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