SARASOTA, Florida—The Orioles used 18 different starting pitchers in 2019. Some started only a game or two, and manager Brandon Hyde would like to have a more consistent rotation this season.
There are seemingly a dozen candidates. John Means and Alex Cobb have secured spots, and Asher Wojciechowski probably has, too.
Wade LeBlanc, the oldest player in camp at 35, appears to have an inside track on a place in the rotation. He’s in camp on a minor league deal and must be added to the major league roster by March 19 or else he can opt out of his contract.
The candidates for the fifth spot range from Rule 5 candidates Brandon Bailey, who is scheduled to start Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, and Michael Rucker, who pitched two shutout innings in the Orioles’ 13-0 win over the Pirates on Thursday, to several pitchers who aren’t on the 40-man roster.
“I like the way Rucker threw the ball,” Hyde said. “That’s a mid-90s fastball with two different breaking balls.
One of the non-roster invitees, Tommy Milone, who signed a minor league contract on February 14, started and pitched two innings, giving up one hit and striking out three.
There are a few long shots — Ty Blach, Thomas Eshelman and Chandler Shepherd, all of whom had brief and unsuccessful starts for the Orioles last season.
Blach pitched two scoreless innings, allowing a hit.
Two of the early candidates, Brady Rodgers, who has arm soreness, and Kohl Stewart, who has biceps soreness, have had their chances compromised.
Rodgers, a minor league signee last month, was perhaps the longest of long shots, but Stewart, who signed a major league deal on December 29, was thought to be a legitimate choice for a fifth starter.
He still may be, but with just four weeks left between now and Opening Day, Stewart is behind but could make up ground if he gets to pitch in the next several day
The Orioles reportedly had interest in bringing back Andrew Cashner but no deal was reached and the veteran is marketing himself as a reliever. The Orioles wouldn’t be interested in Cashner in the bullpen, certainly not at his price.
Bailey and Rucker could always be relievers if the Orioles choose to keep one or both. Milone, who’s the second-oldest player in camp at 33, could have an advantage because of his 136 starts with six different major league teams.
“It does factor in,” Hyde said. “Spring training sometimes is a different look, especially with a veteran-type guy. You don’t really go on results.”
Milone benefited from a diving catch fromcenter fielder Austin Hays on a soft liner by Kevin Newman in the first. Hays later robbed Newman again when Rucker was pitching, and he threw out Colin Moran at home to end the fourth.
When Milone was with Seattle last September, the Mariners came to Baltimore and Hays made an outstanding play.
“It wasn’t anything new,” Milone said. “It’s nice to have him behind me.”
Overall, Milone was pleased with his performance.
“Command could have been a little better,” Milone said. “The more I pitch, the more I get out there in those kind of situations, the better that will get. I’m happy with that first one, kind of get that one under my belt, and now we can move forward in anticipation of getting out there.”
Milone said that he wasn’t affected by coming into camp a few days after other pitchers.
“I was pretty much ramped up, anyways,” Milone said. “I just threw a bullpen right when I got here. I’m just catching up now with the guys that need to make their debut at the end of spring. It didn’t really slow me down at all.”
Hyde will factor in Milone’s experience.
“Sometimes it takes guys that have been around a little bit longer to feel like they’re game-ready,” Hyde said. “I think that we’re definitely going to go on what they’ve done in the past, and their track record. Just really want to get them the proper buildup and ready for the season.”
Hyde liked Milone’s first outing.
“Tommy Milone, throwing some really good sliders and changeups, doing what Tommy Milone does, working at the knees, kept guys off-balance,” Hyde said.
Milone plans to use his experience to his advantage.
“Experience is something that I feel like can always help you,” Milone said. “I feel like I’ve been in all kinds of situations in the big leagues and the minor leagues, everywhere that I pitched.
“When you get guys on base, or maybe not feeling right, I’ve been in those situations before, so I can navigate through. Some days, it doesn’t work out. Some days, I’ve been able to navigate through the tough times, and salvage an outing because of that.”