SARASOTA, FLA. — Nonroster veteran Wade LeBlanc didn’t need a second chance to make a good first impression in the Orioles’ Grapefruit League home opener Sunday at Ed Smith Stadium.
The 35-year-old left-hander pitched two scoreless innings and allowed just one hit in a solid performance that carried the O’s to an 11-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
“It’s always good to get the first one out of the way,” he said. “There’s always nerves. If there aren’t nerves, you shouldn’t be playing.”
He could have fooled anyone who watched him calmly get through his spring debut with just 23 pitches — 16 of them strikes. If he can display that kind of command throughout the spring, it will be tough to keep him out of the big league starting rotation.
“He threw the ball really well,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Threw strikes, commanded pitches to both sides of the plate, kept guys off balance and that’s what he’s been doing for a while in his career now. Came out, two innings, throwing the ball well, feeling good. It was a good start for him.”
LeBlanc wasn’t the only one who made himself comfortable in front of the home crowd. The Orioles lineup, which included six regulars from last year’s club, hammered the parade of pitching prospects that took the mound for the Red Sox, getting a contribution from every slot in the lineup.
Hanser Alberto, coming off last year’s breakout season, led off the bottom of the first and hit the first pitch he saw for a single. By the fifth inning, every Orioles starter had a hit, including Chris Davis, who reached base in each of his three plate appearances with two walks and a single.
After the traveling squad managed just four hits against the Braves in the road opener on Saturday, the home lineup rang up 15, the biggest blows a two-run single by No. 9 hitter Cedric Mullins, a two-run double by nonroster second baseman Rylan Bannon and a seventh-inning home run by veteran catcher Bryan Holaday that was the Orioles’ first of the spring.
Dwight Smith Jr. was the only O’s hitter with two hits.
“I just thought we played good baseball there, for a long time today,” Hyde said. “I was really happy with how we ran the bases, made numerous nice plays on the infield, took some good at-bats. I thought we played the game really well. I thought, for the most part, our pitchers threw strikes and worked ahead of hitters, and showed some good stuff. I think it was a good day all around.”
Entering the ninth inning with an 11-1 lead, right-hander Evan Phillips allowed three runs on two walks, a hit, a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch. Francisco Jimenez came on to get the final out and gave up a three-run homer to Red Sox first baseman Josh Ockimey to make it 11-5 before getting shortstop Jonathan Arauz to fly out to right field to end the game.
Rule 5 guys debut
Both of the Orioles’ selections from the major league phase of December’s Rule 5 draft made their debuts Sunday.
Former Astros prospect Brandon Bailey entered the game in the fourth inning and allowed a long triple to the first batter he faced and allowed the runner (Jarren Duran) to score on a ground out. He also got into a bit of trouble in the fifth when he allowed back-to-back hits with one out, but worked out of the jam.
Right-hander Michael Rucker, who was picked from the Chicago Cubs roster in the second round, replaced Bailey and allowed one hit in a scoreless sixth inning.
Andrew Velazquez joins infield competition
Rookie infielder Andrew Velazquez has made a lot stops during his seven-year pro career, but he’s hoping that the whole “land of opportunity” thing at Ed Smith Stadium works out for him.
He got to the majors briefly with both the Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians before he was claimed by the Orioles off waivers last week, and expressed gratitude for the experience he gained with the Indians and the chance he is going to get to compete for a major league job with the O’s.
“I had a really good time with the Indians,” said Velazquez, who grew up in the Bronx a few miles from Yankee Stadium. “They showed me a lot. I think they really helped me for this year and like moving on in my career, and this is a really good spot.”
The Orioles have plenty of infield utility candidates, but Velazquez said he welcomes the chance to show what he can do.
“Where I came from just now, there were just one or two jobs open,” he said. “Here, too, you’re also competing with everybody, but there’s no opportunity, which is all you can ask for, really.”
Hyde announced the starting pitchers for Tuesday’s split-squad games. Rookie of the Year runner-up John Means will start the home game against the Tampa Bay Rays and free-agent acquisition Kohl Stewart will face the Red Sox in Fort Myers...Top prospect Adley Rutschman got another late at-bat on Sunday and flied out with two runners on base.