A look at the opening day pitchers and more

Can a pitcher that had a stunning finish to one season carry that over to the next? Can two pitchers do it?

If they can, then Orioles lefty John Means and Boston right-hander Nathan Eovaldi may have strong starts in today’s season opener.

Means (2-4, 4.53 in 2020) and Eovaldi (4-2, 3.72 in 2020) will start on opening day at Fenway Park at 2:10 p.m.

Means-Pitching-Back-at-TB-Gray-Sidebar.jpgThe Orioles will begin their 68th season. They are 43-24 all-time on opening day, winning eight of the last 10, nine of 12 and 15 of the previous 20. One of the losses was last year, when got crushed 13-2 on July 24 at Boston. They were behind 10-0 after the fourth inning.

In his final four starts last season, Means went 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.63 WHIP. Over 23 2/3 innings he walked three and fanned 30. In his final four starts last season, Eovaldi went 3-0 with an ERA of 0.86. Over 21 innings he walked two and fanned 25.

Two of Eovaldi’s last four starts in 2020 were against the Orioles. He pitched well in both. In fact, he had four wins last season and three came against Baltimore. He went 3-0 with an 0.95 ERA. He also faced the Orioles in that 2020 opener and gave up one run over six innings.

“We just saw him last week,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said yesterday. “He’s a really good starting pitcher. He’s done it for a while now. Got a great arm. Think he was throwing 100 (mph) in the fifth inning in Fort Myers last week. Yeah, he’s just very, very tough and he’s got plus major league pitches where he’s got a 100, 101 mph fastball and he’s got a good cutter. You know he can change speeds on you as well. He’s done it at a high level. He’s done it in the World Series. We’re going to have our hands full with him, for sure. We’ll try to have good at-bats and try to grind him down a little bit.”

Eovaldi’s average fastball was 97.4 mph last year and he has averaged 97 or better every season since 2016. Maybe the Orioles can quickly get his pitch count up. From pitches 51 to 75 last year, he allowed a 1.009 OPS.

The strengths: What are the strengths of the 2021 Orioles? Said Hyde, it might be in things not easy to quantify, like chemistry, leadership and togetherness.

“I think we have a nice blend right now,” he said. “We have some young guys and then we added some guys that have been around for a while. Which is always nice to have that mixture. I really like our veteran guys. I think Freddy Galvis has been amazing with our young infield group. Especially early on in camp with those young Triple-A infielders that are on the 40-man. Really helpful with Jam (Jahmai) Jones and Rylan Bannon as well as Richie Martin. Out there and takes ground balls with Richie a lot. So, I’ve been seeing a ton of leadership from him. He has fit in really well with our club.

“It’s nice to have Trey (Mancini) back, that is huge from a clubhouse standpoint. Just a really good leader that everyone can go talk to and everybody likes. Matt Harvey has been a huge add for us from that standpoint also. That’s a guy that has been around, been in the league. Has had success, had failure. Guys enjoy talking to him. So, I think we do have a nice chemistry blend going on in the clubhouse, and I’d like for that to continue.”

The Baltimore offense could be a strength. It could feature Austin Hays batting first or moved down to fifth or sixth. Or Cedric Mullins at the top with a next three, in some order, of Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle. Those three didn’t play a game together last year, and Santander and Mountcastle were only in the lineup together for a short time.

“Well, I think we have a chance and opportunity to score a lot of runs. I think we have a lot of upside, offensively. We have a lot of young hitters that I think are going to come into their own. We started seeing that a little bit last year. I think we are going to improve on that,” said Hyde.

I’ve said a few times I believe this is a team that could win as few as 60 games or as many as 70, give or take a few on both ends. A .500 record seems too optimistic for me, and a lot would have to go right.

When the minor leagues return in May, it will be great to see. For this rebuilding club, what happens with the Orioles is important, but what happens down below on the farm is almost equally so.

Radio show is back: My postgame radio show is back! I will be on the air taking calls and talking about the Orioles after most games on 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. The show takes air about 30 minutes after the last out. Tune in today and all year, I hope.

You cannot get the games at this website, but you can hear the postgame show by clicking here. You can listen on the Audacy app (formerly radio.com). On any smart speaker, just tell the speaker to play 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore.

Hope you tune in, call in and can listen often.

Orioles all-time leaders in opening day starts:

20: Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr.
13: Mark Belanger.
12: Paul Blair, Eddie Murray, Boog Powell.
11: Brady Anderson, Adam Jones.
10: Rick Dempsey

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