Tommy Milone was signed as one last rotation depth piece for the Orioles a week into spring training. He’ll get the biggest assignment of the season Friday after manager Brandon Hyde told the veteran left-hander that he would be starting on Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox in place of All-Star John Means.
Milone, 33, was a minor league free-agent signing who spent 2019 with the Seattle Mariners, recording a 4.76 ERA in 111⅔ innings. Seattle was his sixth team in nine major league seasons, with his career beginning with the Washington Nationals and taking him through Oakland, Minnesota, Milwaukee, the New York Mets and back to Washington before Seattle.
When Hyde approached him at Camden Yards before the team bussed down to Washington for an exhibition game against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night, he asked Milone if he had ever made an Opening Day start — knowing that he hadn’t.
“He had a big smile on his face, like ‘Where am I going with this?’” Hyde said. “It’s great to give people great news. … I’m sure he’s already done it, but calling home to let his friends and family know that he’s an Opening Day starter — that’s a big deal. That’s a big deal for these guys.
“Somebody that’s had a pretty long career up until this point. He’s been with quite a few clubs. Seen a lot of different things. He’s hung in there, grinded. He’s had some good years and had some tough years. To make an Opening Day start, that’s a special achievement for somebody. He’s not taking that lightly.”
Milone came to the Orioles this spring with a career 50-47 record and a 4.47 ERA in 174 games, mostly as a starter.
He replaces Means, the team’s lone All-Star in 2019, on Friday in Boston after Means came up with a tired arm this weekend. Means played catch and felt good on Tuesday, Hyde said, but the team will be conservative with the only homegrown pitcher in their rotation.
The decision to go with Milone came down to rest, Hyde said. Alex Cobb, who would have started last Opening Day if not for an injury, pitched Monday’s exhibition game against Washington because Hyde said he was a little behind schedule and they wanted him to use that start to keep building up.
Wade LeBlanc, another minor league free-agent signing meant to bolster the team’s depth, pitched six innings in a simulated game at Camden Yards on Tuesday to get him stretched out. He remains lined up for the third start of the year in Boston. Asher Wojciechowski and Kohl Stewart are also candidates to fill out the rotation.
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“We really keep everybody on regular rest,” Hyde said. “I didn’t want to bring anybody back short. In this kind of unusual space and time, where we only had a short time to get these guys ready, they’ve done an amazing job to get ready. We just didn’t want to take the chance of bringing somebody back on short rest, and we just felt that Tommy was just one day away. He’s going to have five days before his start. Instead of having a four-day rest, he’ll have a five-day rest. It just works out for us in that way.”