SARASOTA, Florida—The Orioles need left-hander Wade LeBlanc to pitch well this spring and make the team. If Alex Cobb and John Means are the first two starters in the rotation, LeBlanc and Asher Wojciechowski are the next two in line.
In his first game for the Orioles, LeBlanc threw two scoreless innings, allowing one hit, in the Orioles’ 11-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox before a sellout crowd of 7,223 at Ed Smith Stadium on Sunday.
Unlike the Orioles’ opener on Saturday when starter Chandler Shepherd faced a number of starters in the Atlanta Braves lineup, LeBlanc faced a host of no-names. Only second baseman Marco Hernandez played as many as 61 games for Boston in 2019.
LeBlanc is the oldest player for the Orioles in spring training at 35, and he knows not to do too much too soon.
“It’s always good to get the first one out of the way,” LeBlanc said. “There’s always nerves. If there’s not nerves, you shouldn’t be playing anymore. It’s good to get it out of the way.”
Manager Brandon Hyde, who watched LeBlanc pitch in 2016 and 2017 for the Pirates, said he knew LeBlanc wouldn’t try too hard to make an impression even though he’s a non-roster player.
“I think that you get feedback from them,” Hyde said about veteran pitchers. “There’s a lot of communication that happens. There’s a lot of times when veterans hold back a little bit early. They’re working on certain things, a little different from a first-year big league camp kid.”
LeBlanc, who was 6-7 with Seattle last season, concurred.
“I’m 35,” he said, laughing. “If he doesn’t know who I am as far as a pitcher, then we’ve got problems. You’re not really looking to impress anybody at this stage. You want to get your work in.”
LeBlanc got three outs on grounders, struck out two and had one fly ball out.
“Power guys can afford to spray a little bit around the zone,” LeBlanc said. “For me, I’ve got to be where I want to be at all times.”
LeBlanc is basically competing against himself this spring. If he pitches well, he’ll be on the team because there aren’t major league-ready prospects in the rotation.
“I think competition is good,” LeBlanc said. “I think competition brings out the best in guys, especially early in camp because the need to perform is always there, even on Day 1. You’ve got a lot of young, talented guys. You could see that from the other side last year.”
Rule 5 debuts: Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, the Orioles’ two Rule 5 draft picks, pitched for the first time..
Bailey threw two innings, allowing a run on three hits and striking out two. Rucker pitched a scoreless inning, allowing one hit and striking out one.
“They both come in hungry,” Hyde said before the game. “They both understand the opportunity they have, and they’re both very appreciative.”
Bailey was drafted from Houston, Rucker from the Chicago Cubs.
“This is the first time pitching on this type of stage, and they’re excited about it,” Hyde said. “We’re going to throw them out there and see what we have.”
After the game, Hyde said he was pleased with how both threw.
“I thought it was nice to get those guys out there, get their first appearance out of the way, and hopefully they can settle down a little bit,” Hyde said.
“I’m looking forward to watching these guys pitch the rest of the spring and see what happens.”
Velazquez fits in nicely: Andrew Velazquez has yet to play in his first game for the Orioles, but he’s confident he’ll fit in.
Claimed by the Orioles from Cleveland February 19, the infielder from the Bronx said he’s used to adjusting.
“I think honestly growing up in New York helped me a lot with adapting and mingling with different people,” Velazquez said. “Being that I can speak English and Spanish makes it a little easier. I enjoy it. It’s different experiences.”
The buzzword in Orioles camp is competition.
“The name of the game is competition, whether it’s friendly competition or not,” Velazquez said. “Even when you’re hitting in the cage with your buddies, it’s competing. That’s the name of the game.
“Where I came from was like that. There was one, maybe two spots open, so I think that was more you were competing with everybody. Here, too, you’re competing with everybody. It’s more opportunity, which is all you can ask for.”
Urena’s back: The Orioles saw their camp roster swell to 69 with the addition of infielder Richard Urena, who cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.
Urena was designated for assignment when Velasquez was added to the roster.
Offensive show: The Orioles had 15 hits by 14 different players. Dwight Smith Jr. was the only player with multiple hits.
Minor league third baseman Rylan Bannon and Cedric Mullins had two RBIs and non-roster catcher Bryan Holaday homered.