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Orioles have hide-your-eyes day as they keep hiding starters in Sarasota, lose 14-2 to Blue Jays

DUNEDIN, FLA. — Orioles manager Brandon Hyde stayed back in Sarasota as long as he could Wednesday, delaying his arrival at the team’s 14-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays so he could watch presumptive Opening Day starter John Means throw a five-inning simulated game.

Tomorrow, it will be Alex Cobb on the back fields, scratched from his scheduled return to game action against the Minnesota Twins to face a real opponent for the first time since his illness-shortened one-inning start Feb. 24.

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Wade LeBlanc, Asher Wojciechowski, and Tommy Milone have been held out of game action as well. Free-agent signee Kohl Stewart was the only presumptive major league starter to pitch in a game in the past week, and that was his debut. It’s an accepted spring training practice to get pitchers their work, allowing the team to control the environment and protect them from opposing hitters and scouts getting a feel for what they’re doing.

The Orioles, though, are teetering somewhere on the edge of over-prepared and over-presumptive when it comes to using those game innings on their rotation depth and not using the game time on the pitchers who will be heading north with the team.

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"I think it depends on who it is, depends on experience,” Hyde said. “Someone like Cobb and LeBlanc, Milone, these guys with some service time, guys that have pitched in a lot of major league games, had a lot of major league spring trainings, they have a pretty good feel and sense for getting built up and what it takes for them to get ready. We would like to see them pitch in games as much as possible, but we can get quality work in in the backfield, also.”

That leaves nonroster invitees Thomas Eshelman and Bruce Zimmermann (Ellicott City) plus left-hander Keegan Akin taking regular turns in the rotation. While they could be part of the Orioles’ rotation plans at some point this year, and Hyde values the opportunity to see them in person against strong competition, each has had starts that are better than others this spring.

Akin was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk after making his third start and fourth appearance of the spring Tuesday night, and, like the other two, has flashed well around some home run issues. The Blue Jays hit three off Eshelman in two innings of nine-hit, nine-run ball.

Hyde said that it wasn’t Eshelman’s day, and noted that despite the hitting conditions in the park, the Orioles didn’t take advantage themselves.

As Zimmermann, Eshelman, and Chandler Shepherd continue to get work in major league camp to prepare for a season that could begin at Norfolk, the Orioles aren’t letting the world see what their actual rotation could look like in front of fans.

Hyde said that Cobb, who has had two simulated games since that first start, has “a small, little blister that we’re not concerned about,” and would take the ball in a game if it wasn’t spring training. His reliance on a split-change has made him susceptible to blisters in the past, though, and he made just three starts in 2019 because of injuries that required hip surgery.

As for the rest of the Orioles’ presumptive rotation, Milone has been working back from a sore trapezius and has a simulated game on tap. LeBlanc has had a setback-free spring and is scheduled to pitch again Saturday. Wojciechowski has dealt with a blister at one point, while Stewart’s three-inning start March 8 was his first of the spring due to biceps soreness.

Means has pitched enough to get up to five innings and 75 pitches in a simulated game, and him having that extended work day Wednesday means he’s on-turn in the rotation to pitch on Opening Day on March 26 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

How often he or any other potential Orioles rotation member faces hitters in real games between now and then remains to be seen.

Bombs away

While the ball was flying out for the Blue Jays, with relievers Mychal Givens, Hunter Harvey and Eric Hanhold each serving up home runs to bring Toronto’s total to six, David Hess finished his two innings cleanly.

Another Oriole who knows his way around a pitcher’s mound, do-it-all utility man Stevie Wilkerson, joined them with a second-inning home run that represented the Orioles’ only run until Mason Williams’ home run in the eighth.

Wilkerson and Williams had two hits apiece, though Wilkerson left the game in the seventh inning after fouling a ball off his right shin. Hyde didn’t know what the extent of the issue was after the game.

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Around the horn

Hyde said that catcher Chance Sisco, who took a foul ball off his hand when he last played March 7, has been dealing with that but faced Hyde and Shepherd during Wednesday’s simulated games. … Right-hander Hector Velázquez, a waiver claim from the Boston Red Sox, said he needs one more bullpen session after throwing one upon his arrival in camp Tuesday before he’s ready for game action.

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