SARASOTA, Florida—Tommy Milone arrived at the Orioles’ spring training camp on Saturday morning and immediately met an old teammate, Wade LeBlanc.
Milone, whose deal with the Orioles became official Friday, is one of 15 non-roster pitchers in camp.
Milone and LeBlanc were teammates with the Seattle Mariners last season. Both are left-handed and are the two oldest of the 36 pitchers in camp.
It was a different offseason for Milone, who has a 50-47 record with a 4.47 ERA in nine seasons with Washington, Oakland, Minnesota, Milwaukee, the New York Mets and Seattle.
“Usually, I had picked somewhere like December sometime, so waiting all the way up to February and after camp starts was difficult,” Milone said.
“When I started throwing bullpens at home and started to get ready, I started to get that anxious feeling of getting back into it and get going. So it was definitely difficult, but happy to do it, to end up in the right place.”
Milone turns 33 on Sunday. LeBlanc, 35, is the oldest pitcher and player.
“You want to be the youngest, but it shows you have staying power,” LeBlanc said. “I’ve got to do my part and make this team to be able to say that I can stay. It’s good to be able to look back and realize that you’ve played this long and been able to stay healthy for this long.”
The similarities between Milone and LeBlanc extend to their records. LeBlanc is 45-47 with an ERA of 4.46, just a point lower than Milone’s.
LeBlanc has played 11 seasons with San Diego, Miami, Houston, the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh and the Mariners.
“He’s had a great career, and for a guy to be able to hang on and pitch how he’s pitched throughout his whole career and continue to do it is special,” LeBlanc said. “We don’t have a whole lot of guys like that in this camp. It’s fun to have him here.”
LeBlanc and Milone will try to win a spot in the starting rotation, although both have pitched in relief. They think they have a good chance to be on the Opening Day roster.
“Any time you’re signing a non-roster deal, you have to come in here and compete for a job,” LeBlanc said. “It’s definitely appealing when there appears to be a good opportunity to make the team.”
Milone did compare notes with LeBlanc, who signed with the Orioles on February 3.
“Just kind of figuring out where things stand and how we’re doing and stuff,” Milone said. “I had to do what was the best opportunity for me and that was the ultimate goal, to get somewhere where I have a chance to make the team and make the rotation out of camp, and ultimately we picked here.”
The two have experience with large groups of pitchers. Last year, they were two of 67 players who played for Seattle, a major league record. Forty were pitchers, another record.
“Just like last year being in Seattle, there’s a lot of young guys and the competition kind of brings out the best in everyone,” Milone said. “You kind of play up, I feel like, when you’re competing for a spot like that and it’s something I’ve had to do pretty much every spring training, so it’s nothing new for me.
“But it will be nice to have some fun and see the young guys and, maybe [like] back in the day when I played with some older guys, they would help me out being a young guy, so return the favor and pay it forward a little bit.”
LeBlanc and Milone gave up their share of home runs in 2019, the year of the home run. LeBlanc allowed 28 in 128 1/3 innings. Milone allowed 24 in 111 2/3 innings.
If they make the Orioles, they’ll pitch at Oriole Park, a notorious home run haven.
“Did you see the home run totals from last year?” LeBlanc said. “There’s not many places that are pitcher-friendly anymore. I take the stadiums with a grain of salt. The fans are good. The park has aged as well as any stadium that’s ever been. It’s one of my favorite places to go. It’s one of my favorite stadiums to be play in. I’ll just try and keep the ball down.”
Milone is ready — whether it’s as a starter, reliever or bulk man to follow a reliever used as an opener, a strategy used a few times by the Orioles last season.
“I still consider that almost as being a starter just because I still knew the day that I was going to pitch,” he said. “That wasn’t really much of a change because they still allowed me to get ample time to warm up just in case something happened in the first inning. Most of the time they would get somebody else up if the other guy was in trouble, so I still had a lot of time to warm up as if I were a starter. So not much adjustment there.
“I didn’t mind it. It was OK.”
Hyde said that he would consider using the opener but would prefer to use the traditional five starters.