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Orioles might need more starting pitching, even with Félix Hernández and Wade LeBlanc in the mix

With veterans Félix Hernández and Wade LeBlanc headed to Orioles camp on minor league deals, there are far fewer questions about the starting rotation than there were even before Alex Cobb was traded earlier this week.

When Cobb was in the fold, he was a shoo-in to start along with former All-Star John Means. Rookies Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin were set up well to join them based on how their debuts went in 2020. But any number of players could have had a claim to the fifth spot.

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Jorge López, a waiver claim last year, is out of minor league options and showed flashes of being able to hold that spot down in 2020. Bruce Zimmermann (Loyola Blakefield) didn’t debut with the fanfare of the other rookies but has some big league success on his resume by virtue of his relief appearance in Boston the last week of the season.

Ashton Goudeau, a waiver claim from the Colorado Rockies in the fall, pitched in relief in his big league debut in 2020 but started in 2019 at Double-A Hartford and struck out 91 in 78 ⅓ innings with a 2.07 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP.

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Rule 5 draft picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells could be in that mix. With prospects Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells now on the 40-man roster, perhaps one impressed enough that their unconventional 2020 was enough to skip Triple-A all together, though that’s unlikely.

Barring any injuries or poor performance, those possibilities will remain hypothetical. And if the Orioles want to keep it that way, another veteran pitcher on a minor league deal might help.

LeBlanc, after all, had an 8.06 ERA in six starts before a stress reaction in his elbow ended his 2020 season with the Orioles. Hernández opted out of 2020 due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, but has seen steep climbs in his ERA, WHIP and home run rate while his strikeout rate has fallen his last three seasons.

Each could be tremendously valuable to the Orioles as spring training presences and potential rotation pieces, but this situation seems different from last spring when Tommy Milone and LeBlanc were coming off pitching over 100 innings apiece. They weren’t world-beaters, but they were reliable enough to write in pen as rotation members pretty early in spring training.

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Both LeBlanc and Hernández might require a bit more of a backup plan. The Orioles might have that in López and Zimmermann, but another experienced pitcher might not hurt their cause as the Orioles finalize who will be reporting to Sarasota, Florida, in less than two weeks for the beginning of workouts.

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