The Orioles began the second half of the season Friday night with a bright spot, one of their few, in the leading trio of their starting rotation.
Not 30 hours later, Dylan Bundy is on the injured list, Andrew Cashner is a member of the Boston Red Sox and John Means is coming off his worst start of the season. The Orioles are tied for the major league lead with 15 starters used, but since Means joined the rotation in late April, those three have been reliable constants.
The Orioles are 22-28 when one of those three starts and 6-36 when anyone else does. Now, they need Bundy to get healthy, Means to bounce back and a replacement for Cashner to arise.
“Like I’ve said a million times, it’s the land of opportunity,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re giving guys starts that — If you can’t savor these moments when you’re in that clubhouse, you’re gonna kick yourself later in life because this doesn’t come around all the time. We’re going to make due with what we have.”
Cashner was scheduled to start Sunday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays before Saturday’s deal that sent him to Boston, but Tom Eshelman, who made his major league debut against the Rays on July 1 with five two-run innings, was called up from Triple-A Norfolk to make the start. That decision had yet to be determined when Hyde met with reporters after a 12-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, one in which Means allowed career highs in runs and home runs.
The hope is that it’s a blip to start the second half after his first half earned him All-Star honors. Means said afterward he feels “no pressure” in the wake of Bundy’s bout of right knee tendinitis and Cashner being traded. He acknowledged it was strange to have a teammate who he considered “our fearless leader” dealt a day before making a start, but he understands that’s part of the process the Orioles are enduring.
“That's kind of the goal for this year is a lot of guys are up here getting a lot of time, getting a lot of work in without a lot of pressure to perform and get wins,” Means said. “Obviously, we're here rebuilding.”
“Just kind of come up here and don't act like you have to do anything more than you were doing,” he said. “A lot of guys come up here, including myself last year, you feel like you have to change something. It's the big leagues, so you're facing the best hitters in the world day in and day out. Honestly, it's the same game. The same type of day. You come in with your best stuff.”
That advice applies to Eshelman — who allowed four earned runs on five hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Rays — and a handful of others. Aaron Brooks impressed with 2 2/3 hitless innings as the starter in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, though the Orioles would like to stretch him out if he’s going to pitch out of the rotation regularly. He’ll start Wednesday against the Washington Nationals in place of Bundy, who said he’s been dealing with his knee issue for the past couple of months but that Friday’s one-inning, seven-run outing was the first time he felt it in a game. He received a cortisone shot and expects to spend the minimum 10 days on the IL.
Asher Wojciechowski and Gabriel Ynoa have also started recently. Each pitched in relief Friday, and Wojciechowski will get Tuesday’s start against Washington. Prospects who could be promoted, such as Keegan Akin, are not on the 40-man roster — though Cashner’s trade opened a spot — and the organization likely wants them to get more seasoning in the minors.
Others who have already started for the Orioles this season are a collection of pitchers who are injured, relievers or even no longer with the organization.
That last group now includes Cashner.
“We’re realistic about where we are and about possible movement,” Hyde said. “We’re a million miles away from being where we’re going to be sometime soon. These are things that are going to happen, and we need people to step up.