The Orioles could have some big decisions to make later today. They’ll check on All-Star left-hander John Means and his availability to make the opening day start Friday night at Boston. Means was scratched from last night’s start due to arm fatigue and a case of dead arm.
But pitching in his place at Philadelphia, 26-year-old right-hander Thomas Eshelman, he of the 6.50 ERA last year, threw another solid outing.
Between four games in the first spring training and three in the current summer camp, counting two intrasquad games, Eshelman has thrown six good outings and one terrible one. The terrible one was on March 11 at Dunedin, Fla., the day before the spring training shutdown, when he allowed nine runs and three homers in two innings against Toronto.
But before his game last night he had allowed one unearned run in eight intrasquad innings over two outings. Then he pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings on four singles versus the Phillies Sunday night. It was an impressive outing that included five strikeouts. Not bad for a pitcher throwing 86 mph fastballs.
Rather than bring Alex Cobb - who is scheduled to pitch tonight - back on short rest Friday, the O’s could just keep Eshelman in turn for that game at Fenway Park in the opener. Could he possibly go from rotation longshot to starting the first game?
“We’re going to have some discussions (today) and we’re going to see how John is,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said after last night’s game. “There are a few guys in play if John can’t go. The way Tom threw the ball tonight, that’s a major league lineup. He’s facing seven All-Stars the first seven hitters.
“He really changed speeds nicely. Used both sides of the plate. Was really pitching off the barrel. Throwing strikes. He got in the area of the (number of) pitches we wanted him to throw. Kind of worked out nicely to give Tanner Scott a game-like situation to come in to face one of the best left-handed hitters in the league (in Bryce Harper). And he punched him out. That was really nice to see. It worked out nice that our bullpen guys came in with a little bit of traffic, having to work out of it, finishing and then going back out. Was really pleased about that.”
Eshelman, acquired by the Orioles last June 10 from Philly for international bonus money, fanned the first two hitters he faced last night, including Harper. He had three 1-2-3 innings and pitched out of jams in the second and third innings, stranding four total runners.
“He had a lot of movement on his fastball and had a really good changeup,” Hyde said. “That was the best, for me, his curveball has been. And he just pitched with a ton of confidence. It was just an outstanding performance.”
Maybe one good enough to put him on the opening day roster. And maybe circumstances have transpired to even put him in consideration for the opening day start.
More from Matt Blood: Orioles director of player development Matt Blood spoke to reporters on Sunday morning. There is no plan in place yet to get minor league players some intrasquad games this summer, but the club hopes that something will happen to allow players to get some work at some point. The pandemic forced officials to cancel the minor league regular season, and now they are trying to figure out how to get those players some high-level competition of some sort this summer.
“Definitely discussion, nothing firm as of now,” said Blood. “It is something we definitely want to do and we’re hoping to get that opportunity. And, you know, just things are so hard to plan at this moment. But as many players as we’re allowed to have and for as long as we’re allowed to have, we want to take advantage of that opportunity. So there have been discussions, but nothing has been set in stone or any type of framework outside of just speculating.”
Click here to read more from Sunday’s interview.
Among some quotes that didn’t make yesterday’s entry was Blood talking about outfielder Yusniel Diaz. The right-handed hitter, who was rated as the Orioles’ No. 1 prospect at the end of 2018, was recently added to the club’s 60-man player pool. He is in the Bowie camp.
“He’s been there a few days and he’ll be working out defensively at all three outfield positions,” Blood said of Diaz. “We’ll work with him on early-work type of stuff but also try to get him as many live reads as possible in the outfield. Just continuing to improve there. Physically, our strength and conditioning and performance staff is going to ... you know he’s a high priority there in terms of continuing to help him get more stronger, athletic and dynamic.
“Offensively, our staff has taken a pretty aggressive approach in challenging him and providing him with game-like, difficult practice. Trying to put him in an environment and provide him with problems that he may see at the Triple-A and major league level in terms of stuff and situations. He’s been talked to about that and he’s on board with it. We’re excited to try and help him improve just the consistency of his batted-ball profile. That is one of the big things for him: continuing to hit the ball hard, hit it in the air and try to hit it a long ways.”
Blood was asked about right-hander Michael Baumann and what improvements he needs to make to advance to the majors.
“For a guy like him that is talented and who has great mental makeup as well, it’s just about becoming more refined and consistent,” Blood said. “You know at the big leagues, typically, the difference between players at High-A and Double-A is they do it more often consistently. So for him, it’s just being able to repeat (his delivery), to execute and to be able to perform at a major league-caliber level more consistently. He needs to get the reps and be put into those situations that he gets closer and closer to being able to do that,” he said.
Blood discussed Ryan Mountcastle’s work on defense in left field. Mountcastle, who homered last night in Philadelphia, may be finding a defensive home out there.
“Right now he is working in Baltimore every day with (Orioles coach) Anthony Sanders, who is a fabulous outfield and baserunning coach,” Blood said. “He works really well and has a long history of development of outfielders. In terms of game reps, my opinion is the best way to learn how to play outfield - while the game does provide that - it’s during batting practice. That is when you get the most live reads in a shorter period of time. So getting out there during BP and really focusing on your pre-pitch setup, your timing, your jumps, your routes and challenging yourself to try and go get balls you wouldn’t necessarily get to see what your range is, that is where you can make the most progress.”
Feels good to hit one off another team pic.twitter.com/ICtCUvI5Qk-- Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) July 19, 2020
Off the bench and out of the park. pic.twitter.com/XHj9MYCtwa-- Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) July 20, 2020