The Orioles opened this challenging season with a lopsided loss that was reminiscent of their past two seasons. They followed it up, though, with two solid performances, including Sunday’s 7-4 victory over the Red Sox in Boston to win the three-game series.
Wade LeBlanc provided an effective start and was backed by a strong bullpen effort. Oriole pitchers didn’t walk a batter for the second straight game after walking seven in Friday’s 13-2 loss. Shortstop José Iglesias keyed the Orioles’ offense with four hits, and Rio Ruiz and Anthony Santander each hit two-run homers. Santander also took away a home run from Boston’s Xander Bogaerts with a good running catch in right field.
LeBlanc, 35, allowed four runs on four hits in 5 2/3 innings in his first start for the Orioles. Reliver Miguel Castro gave up a two-run single to Bogaerts in the sixth, the runs charged to LeBlanc.
The left-hander was excited about the defense.
“You can miss over the plate,” LeBlanc said. “It makes you feel like you want the ball to be put in play. Pitching away from contact isn’t good for anybody, particularly for guys like myself. When you feel like you have defenders everywhere on the field, it makes it a lot easier, and makes pitching a lot more fun.”
Tanner Scott recorded two outs, and Cole Sulser was impressive in picking up his first career save by going two scoreless innings.
Before the game, manager Brandon Hyde said he wanted to use Sulser in a tight situation, and he did.
“I wasn’t quite sure what the situation would be that they would use me,” Sulser said. “I can’t say that my gut reaction would be a save opportunity on my first outing of the season.”
Sulser was claimed on waivers from Tampa Bay after the 2018 season.
“I wanted to see him in big spots,” Hyde said, “because I was impressed with how he was throwing.”
The Orioles play two games in Miami on Monday and Tuesday before returning home for two more against the Marlins.
Elias talks about Mountcastle: In a pregame video conference call, executive vice president/general manage Mike Elias said that he hopes Ryan Mountcastle will make his Orioles debut in 2020.
“There are two big areas we want him to focus on,” Elias said. “One is his play in left field. We’ve been really impressed with how much better he’s gotten very quickly given the fact that he was basically dropped in left field midway last year for the first time in his life.
“But he’s still got a ways to go there, and that’s the focus of his work down there … secondarily, a big right-handed power hitter like he is, a potential middle-of-the-order bat, his walk rates in the minor leagues have not reflected what you wanted to see and maybe there’s some cause for caution in terms of major league success right now.
“I talked to him about it, and he knows this because he’s a natural hitter. He sees pitches. He wants to hit them … and that’s very common in young guys that are gifted, natural-hit-ability guys like he is. But I think he would benefit a lot from some concentrated work in being more selective in taking pitches, and then driving them.
“He’s been applying himself toward that in Bowie. We’ve got some tools in place to help him get feedback on his swing decisions, and I know he’s still waiting for his opportunity up here.”
Elias said that the Orioles would meet about additions to the 60-man player pool on Monday. It stands at 55. He’ll lean toward adding pitchers because if young pitchers don’t work in 2020, their innings will be limited in 2021.
One of the players on the list is utilityman Stevie Wilkerson, who Elias said could miss the entire season because of a fractured left finger.
“This was tough,” Elias said, “because this was going to be a good opportunity for him this year, and he looked really good. It’s just a really unfortunate injury and really unfortunate timing.”
The trade deadline is August 31st, and 16 of the 30 major league teams will qualify for the postseason. That could make Elias’ job more difficult.
“I really don’t know what this trade market is going to look like this year,” Elias said. “There are so many factors. It’s hard to cover them all that makes it just a total unknown … I just don’t know how teams are going to behave.
“A general manager’s job is to look at player moves. We’ll see what comes our way with any of our players as the season goes.”
Elias said there’s no chance Oriole minor leaguers will be allowed to play their counterparts on other teams in 2020.
Rotation not set: Hyde said that Asher Wojciechowski and Kohl Stewart will start against Miami on Monday and Tuesday. Tommy Milone is the probable starter against the Marlins in the home opener on Wednesday.
He hopes that John Means, who was scratched from Opening Day because of arm fatigue, can start Thursday but isn’t committing to a rotation until Means returns.
“If John’s ready to make that second start at home, then I think we’ll figure out a rotation after that,” Hyde said.
Undrafted free agents: In addition to the six draft choices signed, the Orioles announced their eight undrafted college free agents, which had been previously reported: first basemen TT Bowens, from Central Connecticut State, J.D. Mundy, Radford; right-handed pitchers Shane Davis, North Carolina Central, Thomas Girard, Duke, Isaiah Kearns, Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Ryan Watson, Auburn, Brandon Young, Louisiana-Lafayette; and centerfielder Dylan Harris, North Carolina.