BALTIMORE—It wasn’t a surprise when manager Brandon Hyde revealed that Andrew Cashner would start for the Orioles on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. That was the expectation when Alex Cobb felt soreness in his right groin.
Hyde had said as much in Sarasota when the Orioles concluded spring training, but instead of following Cashner with Dylan Bundy in the second game of the season on Saturday, the first-year manager dropped some news at Tuesday’s workout at Oriole Park.
“We’re going to do the ‘opener’ on the day after the off-day,” Hyde said.
Hyde had talked about using the opener, where one pitcher begins the game and comes out after an inning or two, to be followed by a pitcher who should provide more innings.
That practice was used successfully by the Tampa Bay Rays last year, and to a lesser extent by the Oakland Athletics.
Right-hander Nate Karns, who never pitched more than two innings in any of his seven Grapefruit League outings, will be the Orioles’ opener. Perhaps they’ll follow with left-hander John Means, who could supply the length.
Karns, 31, hasn’t pitched in a major league game since May 19, 2017 because of injuries.
Hyde wanted to use the opener after Friday’s off-day because the bullpen will have a full day of rest. Bundy is scheduled to start the Orioles’ third game on Sunday.
“We’re trying this out,” Hyde said. “It’s new for us. It’s new for me. To be able to have your bullpen rested before that game is key.”
David Hess and Mike Wright are expected to round out the Orioles’ rotation, though Cashner could start Tuesday in Toronto on regular rest.
The Orioles think that Cobb will be ready for the home opener on April 4. With a scheduled off-day on April 5, perhaps the Orioles will use the opener again on April 6—also against the New York Yankees.
Cashner gets his second Opening Day start. His first came with the San Diego Padres on March 30, 2014. For the second time in his career, Cobb was scheduled to start an opener but couldn’t because of injury.
Cobb was supposed to start the Tampa Bay Rays opener in 2015 but a forearm injury that led to Tommy John surgery prevented that.
“We came to an agreement that it was the right thing to do,” Hyde said of bumping Cobb, who was placed on the 10-day injured list.
“We want 30-plus starts out of him,” Hyde said. “We don’t want to lose time with him…We want Alex for the majority of the season and not lose him because we pushed him early and made a start that he probably wasn’t ready to make.”
Cobb remained in Sarasota while his teammates worked out before boarding a train for New York.
“It was the right thing to do,” Hyde said of making the switch. “To give him a little bit of time, to make sure that he’s 100 percent, and it lines up perfectly for the home opener.”
Cashner feels badly for Cobb.
“It’s definitely a bummer for him,” Cashner said. “I know he was looking forward to it.”
Cashner said that he’d prepare by trying to keep things as normal as possible.
“It’s more about going about your routine, staying structured with your day,” Cashner said. “Just enjoying the whole thing, take it all in.”
Karns has been a starter for most of his five-season career and was eager for the opportunity.
“We’re going to go and see how much I can give out on Game 2,” Karns said.
The opener intrigues Karns and many others.
“It’s still new to the game,” Karns said. “I know I’m not stretched out…It’s something that people are starting to find value in.”
Karns won’t predict a pitch or innings count.
“I can go as long as they want,” Karns said. “As long as I’m effective, they’re going to keep rolling me out there, pass the baton to the next guy.”
New Orioles catcher Jesus Sucre played for the Rays last year when they implemented the opener.
“I think it’s great because we have a bunch of guys in the bullpen that can do the job,” Sucre said. “It’s easier for me and hard for the hitters. Every time, they saw a different guy on the mound.
“…When you go hit in your first at-bat, you face someone, and the next at-bat, you face a different guy. You have a plan to hit, and then when [there’s a new pitcher], it’s real hard.”
Sucre and Karns are hoping that it’s hard on the Yankees on Saturday.
“I’m not going to get caught up in how many innings,” Karns said. “I just want to go out there and impact the game in a positive way, support my teammates, and see where it takes us from there.”