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‘Conservative route’ could lead Orioles to start Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone or Thomas Eshelman on Opening Day

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said for a second day in a row that Opening Day starter John Means’ arm fatigue was improving, but delayed a decision on whether Means would start on July 24 when the season opens at Boston’s Fenway Park.

As he hedged that decision, Hyde said that the Orioles were “definitely going to take a conservative route with John because he means so much to us and his future,” and listed Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone and Thomas Eshelman — all of whom began both spring training and summer camp as non-roster invitees — as alternatives to be the team’s Opening Day starter.

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“They would all be in the mix and all be part of the discussion,” Hyde said.

LeBlanc, who is scheduled to pitch to hitters Tuesday at Camden Yards as Kohl Stewart starts the exhibition game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, spent most of 2019 as a follower for the Seattle Mariners. Milone, too, has plenty of major league experience but pitched for Seattle in 2019 after its frequent opener uses.

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LeBlanc had a 5.71 ERA with a 1.451 WHIP in 121⅓ innings last year with Seattle. Milone had a 4.76 ERA with a 1.119 WHIP in 111 2/3 innings in 2019. LeBlanc’s career ERA is 4.46; Milone’s is 4.47.

Eshelman was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies last summer for international signing bonus slots and struggled in his debut season for the Orioles before being outrighted off the roster in the offseason.

LeBlanc and Milone were both added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster last week, solidifying that they’d be on the team come Opening Day. But Means’ situation has them in the mix to start on Opening Day.

Hyde said on Saturday that Means wouldn’t make his start Sunday against the Phillies because of arm soreness, which he likened to the tired-arm period Means had last July that landed him on the injured list in his All-Star rookie year.

He hasn’t played catch or thrown at all since then, Hyde said, and would require him “to start feeling better and go out and play catch and really feel nothing at all for the next couple of days” to return to the rotation.

“I feel like we’re trying to get ahead of this a little bit and not push him into a place where we’re risking losing time with him down the road this season,” Hyde said. “But, taking the conservative approach, hopefully he can make the start on the 24th but if not, maybe a handful of days later or whatever that may be.”

Hyde said that veteran right-hander Alex Cobb, the team’s longest-tenured starter, wasn’t a candidate because they wanted him to get Monday’s exhibition start against the Nationals to continue building up after he missed almost all of 2019 with injuries that led to season-ending hip surgery.

“We’re still trying to build up Cobb,” Hyde said. “I’d like for Cobb to go four innings tonight, but we’ll see. For me, he’s the one starter that’s a little bit behind the others in build-up, just because of missing the whole year last year and he’s just not quite there yet. But hopefully, we’re going to get four out of him, get him stretched out tonight.”

Around the horn

  • Outfielder Austin Hays, who was hit by a pitch in the knee Sunday, was left out of Monday’s lineup. Hyde said that if it was the regular season, he would have played.
  • Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. was placed on the injured list Monday to allow him time to prepare for the season after his late report because of testing positive for COVID-19, though Hyde said that he could still make the Opening Day roster.
  • Outfielder Stevie Wilkerson (finger) saw a specialist Monday, but Hyde didn’t have an update pregame.

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