As Orioles left-hander John Means repeatedly proved he deserved a starting job and manager Brandon Hyde remained averse to the idea of a permanent six-man rotation, the possibility existed that one of the five current starters could lose that title, if only temporarily.
That’s what happened Friday before the Orioles began their three-game series at the Minnesota Twins, with Hyde announcing right-hander David Hess would be available out of the bullpen as the team opened a rotation spot for Means, who will pitch during the upcoming series at the Chicago White Sox.
Hyde reiterated the move is far from permanent. He expects both Hess, 25, and Means, 26, to make plenty of starts between now and season’s end.
“I look at him as being in the rotation but tonight being in the bullpen,” Hyde said of Hess. “He’s going to have a ton of innings this year. It’s still really, really early. I think we have a good problem.”
Friday’s game marks the first of six straight before a day off, then another six straight games before another day off. Although it could be sensible to employ a six-man rotation for those spans, Hyde’s concern is a week off between starts would affect his pitchers’ routines while potentially over-resting them.
A six-man rotation featuring Hess and Means, as well as Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy and Dan Straily, could serve more use when the Orioles begin a stretch of 20 straight days without a day off after the May 9 off-day, Hyde said.
“We’re going to play with our rotation all year long,” Hyde said. “I don’t think anything is going to be set in stone for a while.”
Means, a surprise member of the Opening Day roster, has posted a 1.74 ERA this season. He allowed no more than one earned run in any of his seven outings (three starts).
"It's pretty crazy,” Means said. “It's pretty surreal. I'm kinda numb to it still, but I'm just gonna try to keep pitching, try to finish the season strong.”
Hess, meanwhile, began his season with two impressive outings before struggling of late. He made his 2019 debut in relief on Opening Day, pitching two scoreless innings against the New York Yankees. He followed that with 6 1/3 hitless innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in his first start of the year.
In the four starts since, Hess is 0-4 with an 8.66 ERA and eight home runs allowed. On Monday against the Chicago White Sox, Hess allowed only one base runner through four innings before surrendering four runs in the fifth.
Although Hyde doesn’t want to overreact to the season’s first month, he also wants to put his young players in different situations and see how they react.
“They’re just entering their MLB careers; I want to give these guys opportunities,” Hyde said. “We’re not going to short sample these guys. We’re going to allow them to make mistakes. There are still things they need to figure out, especially being a big league rotation arm. We know there are going to be bumps along the way for all of our guys.”
Smith recalls Vlad Jr. ‘just being a kid’
The Orioles won’t get to see Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., baseball’s top prospect called up for his major league debut Friday, until he and Toronto visit Camden Yards from June 11-13. But one Baltimore outfielder has already seen him plenty.
Dwight Smith Jr. spent part of last season batting behind Guerrero with the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo. He watched Guerrero, then 19, slash .336/.414/.564 in 30 games for the Bisons.
“He was just being a kid,” Smith said Friday. “He enjoys the game. Always had a smile on his face. Came ready to work. He was the most relaxed 19-, 20-year-old at that level, and it seemed like nothing fazes him, honestly, so he’s well beyond his years. He’s ready for this moment, for sure.”
Guerrero, the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, grew up around the game, but Smith offered advice when Guerrero asked. With his father being a Montreal Expo at the time, Guerrero was born in Canada, with his debut coming in the same country. Smith, whom the Orioles acquired in a March trade for international bonus slots, made his debut in his hometown of Atlanta. He expected to be jittery, but settled in, and he expects his former teammate to handle his call-up the same.
“I expect him to keep doing what he’s been doing,” Smith said. “It’s the same game, and once he just gets past the jitters, which honestly, probably his first at-bat, he’ll have a little bit, but it probably will feel normal to him.”
Around the horn
First baseman Chris Davis rejoined the team in Minneapolis after missing Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox for what Hyde called a personal matter. Davis was out of the lineup against Twins left-hander Martín Pérez, against whom he is 3-for-19 with 10 strikeouts in his career. … Double-A Bowie outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the Orioles’ top prospect who was acquired in the Manny Machado trade, was placed on the seven-day injured list. … Right-hander Josh Lucas, who was designated for assignment Monday, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.