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Nonroster invitee to Opening Day starter: Orioles’ Tommy Milone recognizes uniqueness of opportunity

Tommy Milone is aware of the implausibility of all this.

The veteran left-hander wasn’t a member of the Orioles when the original spring training began, signing a minor league deal with the organization a couple of days after camp opened. He wasn’t even a member of Baltimore’s 40-man roster until last week, when the team selected his contract. But he’ll find himself on the mound at Fenway Park on Friday, facing the Boston Red Sox as the Orioles’ Opening Day starter in an assignment he quickly admitted he didn’t envision when he put pen to paper in February.

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“I don’t know the last time a nonroster invitee made an Opening Day start,” Milone said Wednesday. “I don’t know if that’s going to be something that’s in the record books.”

Milone, 33, got the Opening Day nod as a result of some arm fatigue that will push 2019 All-Star John Means into at least the second series of the shortened 60-game season, at the Miami Marlins, with Milone’s rest schedule making him the most feasible selection. Right-hander Alex Cobb and left-hander Wade LeBlanc will follow Milone in Baltimore’s season-opening rotation, manager Brandon Hyde said.

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Milone’s debut with the Orioles, his seventh team in 10 major league seasons, will be his first Opening Day start. He brings a 4.47 ERA in a career spent mostly as a starter. Last year with the Seattle Mariners, he worked predominantly as the bulk pitcher behind an opener, with none of his 17 relief appearances beginning later than the third inning.

Adding to the odd circumstances surrounding Milone’s start Friday is the environment it will come in. With the coronavirus continuing its spread throughout the nation, Milone will make the outing in front of no fans.

“It’s actually really tough [to envision] because obviously the year that is going to be going on right now with no fans and everything like that ... You think of Opening Day, you think of a full ballpark, a lot of cheering, a lot of fans, and I’m going to go out there and not see anybody in the seats besides a couple of the players that are in the stands,” Milone said. “It’s definitely going to be different, but either way, Opening Day is an honor, and it’s always something to look forward to.”

His response when Hyde informed of the selection matched up, with Hyde detailing a “priceless” reaction with a massive smile on Milone’s face. He soon texted his wife, parents and various friends.

“It’s obviously one of those where it’s probably going to be the only time that it happens, so you’re going to take it as that and just be really excited about it,” Milone said. “It’s obviously something I didn’t expect coming in, but an honor anyway. I’m excited for this opportunity.”

Harvey ‘very doubtful’ for Opening Day

Hunter Harvey, the former first-round pick the Orioles converted to relief with great success last year, is “very doubtful” for the club’s Opening Day roster because of muscular soreness in his right elbow, Hyde said Wednesday.

“We’re not concerned about it at all,” Hyde said. “It’s just a little tight, so we’re just being conservative with him.”

Harvey’s rise to Baltimore after he was drafted 22nd overall in 2013 was continually delayed by arm issues. In the middle of last season, he moved to the bullpen at Double-A, fast-tracking him to the majors. He pitched for the Orioles seven times in 2019, posting a 1.42 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 6⅓ innings before the club shut him down because of his approaching innings limit coinciding with some arm soreness.

“Hopefully, he gets healthy soon, and we see him on the mound,” Hyde said. “He’s a big part of our club.”

Around the horn

  • Hyde said outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. remains in consideration for the Orioles’ 30-man Opening Day roster despite missing the first two weeks of camp after testing positive for COVID-19.
  • Right-hander Dillon Tate, who was hit in his pitching arm by a comebacker nearly two weeks ago, still hasn’t started throwing.

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