No area on the Orioles roster had more turnover than the starting rotation this offseason, and as baseball makes its second attempt at a season after a monthslong shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic, pitching coach Doug Brocail believes there’s enough depth and quality there to get the team through the season.
The Orioles signed 2013 No. 4 overall pick Kohl Stewart to a major league free-agent contract in December, and added veteran left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone on minor league deals in spring training, to add to a rotation that already features John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski.
It’s a rotation, however, that no longer has the pitchers responsible for 89 of the 162 starts in 2019 because of the trades of Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner plus a host of releases.
But that primary group, plus depth starters Chandler Shepherd and Thomas Eshelman, give Brocail comfort that the 60-game season won’t be one in which the Orioles are once again challenged for starting pitching.
Brocail said: “It’s not the depth that I’m worried about, it’s, ‘Can I get these guys enough innings so we’re not killing the bullpen in the first few weeks of the season?’
“I have two veterans looking at those spots right now. I’ve got LeBlanc and Milone. They’ve been there; they’ve done it. Two very savvy guys, two guys that know how to pitch, two guys that know how to work their way through a lineup. Kohl Stewart, younger guy, probably a little more energetic, athletic. The worry with him is did he get enough? Did he get enough while we were gone in that three months to be able to build up to where we need him to be with the two weeks that are left? It’s a question that will haunt us the rest of the year.”
Asked whether there was anything specific that prevented Stewart from getting built up, Brocail said there wasn’t, but that the 25-year-old right-hander doesn’t recover as quickly between outings as other guys and is someone the team has had to watch closely during the shortened camp this month.
Stewart, a former Minnesota Twins prospect who has impressed in his limited opportunities on the mound for the Orioles in both the spring and summer camps, is the type of high-upside option that the team is short on otherwise in the rotation.
He pitched just once in spring training due to arm soreness before camp shut down, and had one live batting practice session before a four-inning intrasquad start Saturday.
“The three times I’ve seen him throw against hitters has been impressive,” manager Brandon Hyde said, noting he has “top-of-the-first-round talent and velocity” with a fastball up to 95 mph and a cutter and slider that Hyde liked.
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“He doesn’t have a ton of major league experience, and I just want to see more,” Hyde said.
While Hyde has been loath to give away any of the team’s pitching plans, only allowing Sunday that LeBlanc was simply a candidate to be in the rotation after pitching five scoreless innings in Saturday’s intrasquad game, Brocail outlined the plans a bit more. He said that Opening Day starter Means, Cobb and LeBlanc are lined up to pitch the team’s three exhibition games July 19, 20 and 21 against the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals.
That would put them in line to start the first three games of the season in Boston as well, leaving Stewart, Wojciechowski and Milone in a battle for two spots, provided the Orioles go with a five-man rotation.
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With a 30-man roster, the team can likely keep them all and have one available in relief rather than have him stay ready at the secondary camp.
“I’m still keeping it pretty open,” Hyde said.
Martin breaks wrist
Orioles infielder Richie Martin broke a bone in his right wrist, Hyde said, a surprising and disappointing development considering that the team was monitoring how a cut on a finger on his left hand was healing after Martin dived into a base during Friday’s intrasquad game.
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Hyde said Martin went out to play catch to test the finger, which has a laceration under his nail, when his throwing hand felt sore. An X-ray revealed the break, which doesn’t have a recovery timetable but will certainly put Martin out of contention to start the season with the team.
“My heart goes out to him,” Hyde said. “He worked so hard to have a really good offseason. He had a great offseason from a work standpoint, he’s making huge strides. We were just talking about how much he’s improved defensively yesterday morning, and I like the swing adjustments he’s been making. That was a disappointing evening, and just talking this morning, he’s pretty down about it.”
Martin, the team’s Rule 5 pick in the 2019 season, was preparing for a utility middle-infield role after the offseason signing of José Iglesias at shortstop.
Around the horn
Left-hander Ty Blach is getting a second opinion on his sore throwing elbow, Hyde said. … Right-hander Dillon Tate, who got hit in the arm with a line drive Friday, is still dealing with swelling, Hyde and Brocail said … Sunday’s workout won’t be an intrasquad game but will instead focus on hitters getting a lot of work off live pitching, without having to stand in the field between innings.