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Orioles reset: Next time the team is at Camden Yards, expect plenty of changes on the field

There’s a grease board in the press box at Camden Yards that has the day’s lineups and game information on it, and the tradition is to not change it after the last game until the next year’s home opener.

Since the press box staff wasn’t back this year to change it, that board still has the lineups of the 2019 home finale listed — a quick, 2-1 Orioles win over the Seattle Mariners that featured a good start by John Means, much like Sunday’s victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

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There was no way to predict that the next time the Orioles gathered at Camden Yards would be for summer camp, or that the ballpark would have to be empty when they were able to start finally playing games in July.

But the lineup from that day, featuring several players who aren’t with the Orioles anymore, was a reminder Sunday that things are still bound to change this offseason, even though the 2020 campaign has exceeded expectations.

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That lineup from last Sept. 22 featured Dwight Smith Jr., who has since been designated for assignment, in left field, plus Mark Trumbo, who walked in free agency after that season, at designated hitter. Jonathan Villar, who was about to be traded to the Miami Marlins so the Orioles didn’t have to pay him a high arbitration salary, was the starting shortstop. Richard Bleier, also now a Marlin, got the save.

There are some staples from the 2020 team involved, too, with Hanser Alberto at second base, Austin Hays in center field and DJ Stewart in right field. Renato Núñez was at third base.

The coming weeks and months will bring plenty of time to dive into who might not be around when the Orioles return to Camden Yards in April or leave it for the last time in 2021 in September.

But the nature of the team’s rebuild means that, like last year’s departures, just because a player had a significant role on this team doesn’t mean the club won’t make a move to improve when the time comes.

Smith was the team’s primary left fielder until the minute Ryan Mountcastle was ready and didn’t last long on the roster after that.

There’s also a salary component to it. Asher Wojciechowski will be eligible for salary arbitration this summer on a major league contract, and his removal from the roster likely signals that the Orioles weren’t interested in paying him more than the minimum.

Others who are due raises include Núñez, Hanser Alberto, Anthony Santander and Pedro Severino. Núñez, who will get a nice raise because of his power numbers, might be deemed surplus because of the presence of Mountcastle, the planned return of Trey Mancini, and the team’s glut of outfielders and corner players.

Santander is probably too productive to go anywhere, at least in the offseason, though he or any of the other young outfielders that another team likes might end up available in trades.

When it comes to Alberto and Severino, they’ll be helped by the fact that the Orioles don’t have prospects on the immediate horizon at those positions — unless top prospect Adley Rutschman meets his catcher-of-the-future designation ahead of schedule.

However this team looks when it reconvenes next year, though, the expectation is that it will be different. That is, after all, the transactional nature of the game that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias has started to follow.

What’s next?

Just six games to go for the Orioles, who go to Boston and then Buffalo to play the Toronto Blue Jays without officially being eliminated from the playoffs, though they might as well be.

This trip, though, is about finishing strong. The short season means statistics are pretty volatile, and a player can lose a lot in just a few games. For starting pitchers, they can still bring their ERA down significantly with one more quality start.

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Similarly, a reliever can see theirs balloon because of one bad outing. Hitters have the chance to arrive at the counting stats that will be prorated out to 162 games and become benchmarks for their careers going forward.

Manager Brandon Hyde said the Orioles will still give the last week its proper due, even as they can see a return to a more normal life ahead.

What was good?

It has to be such a relief for everyone involved that Means has calmed back down and started pitching like himself again after what was a difficult 2020 for him. Truthfully, it just didn’t feel right from the start. The team hiding him in spring training set a weird mood around Means, and the expectation that his different stuff would make him a different pitcher that opponents would be surprised by come April didn’t really help matters.

When that didn’t pan out when the season finally began, it was a frustrating experience for him.

“I was kind of pitching a little bit pissed off and angry when I couldn’t locate as well as I would hope,” Means said. “That’s just not me. I just can’t pitch like that. I’ve been staying more relaxed, and a little bit of change of delivery. I’m not as aggressive, not as violent as I was early in the year. I tried to slow things down, and that helped me.”

Now that he’s back to good form, the Orioles' rotation is in good shape entering 2021. With Means back to normal, Alex Cobb around for one more year, and a young group of pitchers ready to chip in, the Orioles might not have to go picking off the scrap heap to fill out their rotation any longer.

What wasn’t?

It’s been another season of inconsistent availability for Hunter Harvey, the Orioles' hard-throwing reliever who missed the first month of the season with forearm soreness and is just trying to get back into form as the season winds down.

Entering Sunday’s appearance, he’d struck out just three batters in 6⅓ innings. Pitching coach Doug Brocail said the lack of strikeouts came down to his lack of trust in throwing his split-finger fastball the way he should.

“Harv’s frustration with his split, he has the answer, he just doesn’t do it,” Brocail said. “I ask him, ‘What’s the problem?’ [He says] ‘Well, I’m not throwing it like the fastball.’ Well, there you have it. ‘Think fastball, let it rip and good things happen.’ He wants to see the swing and miss. He wants to see the break. If he just forgets about all of that and just throws the fastball with it, that’s when it’s really, really good.”

Harvey’s solution in striking out two in 1⅓ innings of scoreless relief Sunday was to just throw almost exclusively fastballs. That’s simply not going to be a long-term solution for someone who hasn’t been healthy enough to be able to think long-term often.

On the farm

In a sprawling media session Friday, Brocail praised the work being done with the pitchers that are coming up to the major league team from the secondary site at Bowie.

Brocail said that after consecutive great starts from rookies Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, he called the coaches there to tell them how good their work was with the team’s precious young arms.

“I said, Hey, I know it’s been a rugged situation this summer.' 2020′s been hell on a lot of people, but I wanted to let them know that the work that they’ve done has really, really helped because it shows at the big league level," Brocail said. "Those guys aren’t just out there playing catch every day. They’re working, and they’re building their pitches. They’re throwing bullpens. It’s not just like they’re trying to go through the motions down.

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“These guys have really busted their hump, and having the communication from those guys to [director of pitching Chris Holt] to us is huge because when we see something and they send a guy down, ‘This is what we want done, this is what we want to see, this is what we’ve been working on,’ we know it’s getting done. And we know it’s getting done because when they come back, the guy’s prepared, the guy’s ready, and the guy’s ready to contribute at this level. It’s been enormous for us.”

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ORIOLES@RED SOX

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

TV: MASN

Radio: 105.7 FM

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