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Orioles enter final week of camp with veteran rotation options, just in time for realistic scrimmages

With the additions of veteran left-handers Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone to their 40-man roster Wednesday night, the Orioles have formally positioned themselves to have a far more experienced rotation in 2020 than they did in last year’s 108-loss campaign.

It’s plausible All-Star and Opening Day starter John Means will be the least experienced member of the Orioles’ rotation, pitching ahead of veterans Alex Cobb, LeBlanc and Milone, as well as right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, who is even with Means in career major league starts but is four years older. Kohl Stewart, a 25-year-old right-hander who was the Minnesota Twins’ fourth overall draft pick in 2013, is also in the mix.

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“I really like our rotation,” Wojciechowski said on a Zoom call Thursday. “People say we’re a rebuilding team. I feel like we have a very veteran rotation, guys with a lot of experience.”

Of the seven pitchers with at least 12 starts for the 2019 Orioles, five of them, including Means and Wojciechowski, had started fewer than 20 major league games in their careers before last season. The other two, right-handers Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy, have since been traded.

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Those seven pitchers’ average age at the midpoint of last year was 27.7 years old. Assuming the final week of camp passes without injuries, the Orioles will begin the 60-game 2020 season on July 24 with a staff featuring three pitchers with at least 100 career starts in Cobb, LeBlanc and Milone, plus Means and Wojciechowski, who each have made 27 starts in the majors. The average age of those five is 31.6.

Including Stewart, the group’s average age drops to 30.5. Baltimore’s lone major league free-agent signing on the pitching side this offseason, Stewart represents the only major candidate for the Orioles’ rotation who wouldn’t bring at least a year’s worth of career starts into the role. Manager Brandon Hyde said the Orioles are considering Stewart as a starter, long reliever or bulk pitchers behind an opener.

Both LeBlanc and Milone pitched primarily in bulk roles for the Seattle Mariners last year, each throwing more than 110 innings despite 14 combined starts. As important as their veteran presence on the mound is what they’ll bring to the clubhouse, Hyde said.

“It’s two guys that have done this for a while now in the league,” Hyde said. “That’s very helpful. They’ve navigated through tough lineups before. I think some veteran experience not only on the mound but in the clubhouse is key, and both those guys, it’s well known around the league how much those guys are respected and how professional they are, so adding both those guys is a big boost for not just on the field but in our clubhouse.”

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Although Hyde has only committed to Means starting Opening Day, the Orioles’ live batting practice and intrasquad schedule has seen Cobb pitch the day after him, with both LeBlanc and Stewart the following day. Wojciechowski and Milone have then worked the two subsequent days.

Stewart and LeBlanc were scheduled to start Thursday’s intrasquad matchup, the first of three that will serve as more accurate representations of a game environment before the Orioles’ first exhibition Sunday in Philadelphia.

Hyde said that the games will be about seven innings each and feature crowd noise fed into Oriole Park, plus the use of a public address announcer, umpires and the scoreboard. The teams were selected by the two pitchers and position players each with the most major league service time, with Cobb and Chris Davis drafting one team and LeBlanc and José Iglesias making the picks for the other. Although Hyde said the draft was “concealed” because “we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” he did offer that the teams were required to select all of the pitchers before any position players were taken.

“Being the commissioner, I was heavily influential of making sure it was even as best as I could,” Hyde said. “It was pretty lively. There was a lot of energy in the draft. There was some yelling back and forth on players, who wanted who, so it was fun.”

The fed-in crowd noise, which other teams have used during their camps, could make for a livelier experience at Camden Yards, as well. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, fans initially will not be able to attend games, and the audio could make the circumstances more comfortable for players while also keeping teams from hearing what’s being said in the other dugout.

“I think we all want to see what it’s like,” Hyde said.

Around the horn

  • The Orioles added prospects DL Hall, Yusniel Diaz and Ramón Urías to their player pool, bringing the team’s pool to 56 members. All three will report to the team’s secondary training site in Bowie. With Hall and Diaz in the fold, nine of the Orioles’ top 11 pre-draft prospects according to Baseball America are in their player pool.
  • Hyde said surgeries on left-hander Ty Blach (Tommy John) and infielder Richie Martin (broken right wrist) went “extremely well.”
  • Right-hander Dillon Tate remains day-to-day with swelling and soreness in his right forearm after getting hit with a line drive last week.

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