Santander hampered by minor oblique issue

Harvey to start 2nd game of season; LeBlanc open to any role with O's

March 28th, 2021

A minor oblique issue has kept outfielder Anthony Santander out of the Orioles' lineup this week, manager Brandon Hyde confirmed before Saturday’s 8-5 loss to the Braves. The issue, which Hyde characterized as precautionary, has sidelined Santander for the past four games, with Opening Day less than a week away.

“I’m hoping he’s in there [Sunday] or the next day,” Hyde said. “He took a lot of at-bats, and his side is a little bit sore. He took regular work today, he had a ton of at-bats a couple days ago and we were giving him a couple days off anyway, and now, I just don’t want to push anything. There’s no reason to put him on the field if he’s the least bit sore.”

Santander sustained a season-ending left oblique strain last September, limiting his 2020 campaign to 37 games. He emerged as one of the American League’s top run producers in that time, hitting .261 with 11 home runs, 32 RBIs and an .890 OPS as the O’s everyday No. 2 hitter. He was also a Gold Glove Award finalist in right field.

It is unclear at this point if the two injuries are related, or if Santander will need to open the season on the injured list. Even minor oblique issues often take at least several weeks to heal.

Santander was enjoying a productive spring, hitting .310 with 10 walks in 13 Grapefruit League games. The O’s challenged Santander to focus on plate discipline, as he has a .302 on-base percentage since the start of 2019, along with 31 homers and 91 RBIs.

“Like everybody else that’s on the club, I want to make sure they’re 100 percent,” Hyde said. “I’m not going to rush Tony. He’s got enough at-bats already. I’m not worried about his defense. His legs are underneath him. So I’m just going to wait until he’s ready to go before I play him in a game.”

Harvey day
Uncertainty abounds at the back of the Orioles' rotation after Friday’s demotion of Keegan Akin and Saturday’s trade for Adam Plutko, with five candidates still in the mix for three spots. But the O's are ready to commit to Matt Harvey as their No. 2 starter behind John Means.

Harvey will start the second game of the season on April 3 in Boston, Hyde announced Saturday. Harvey is scheduled to make his final spring start Sunday against the Pirates, meaning he’d be on an extra day of rest for his season debut next Saturday. The veteran right-hander pitched to a 5.40 ERA this spring.

“He’s had a nice camp, he had a really good start his last time out,” Hyde said. “He’s been a super pro in camp, and I feel like he’s improved every outing. He feels great physically. I know that he’s excited to be here and feels like he has a lot to prove, so it was cool telling him.”

From the game
Means said he was feeling the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine during his final spring tune-up Saturday, when he was tagged for five runs in 3 2/3 innings at CoolToday Park. Means said he received the vaccine earlier in the day and experienced fatigue in his final inning, during which he gave up a three-run double to Austin Riley.

“I just got through the symptoms, and I’ll be good to go,” Means said.

It was the conclusion of an uneven spring for the 2019 All-Star, as he pitched to a 7.11 ERA in 15 1/3 Grapefruit League innings.

Welcome back, Wade
Whether it’s in the bullpen or the rotation, Wade LeBlanc appears assured a roster spot after the veteran left-hander returned to the Orioles on a split contract Friday, less than 24 hours after they granted his request to be released. LeBlanc had exercised an opt-out clause in the Minor League deal he signed over the winter. The new contract will pay him $700,000 to serve as starting depth or as a bulk-innings reliever.

“It’s kind of hectic, to be honest with you, because you’re using that opt-out to kind of scan the landscape and see what else is out there, but for me, personally, I never really wanted to leave this organization,” LeBlanc said. “That’s just me being honest with you guys. I wanted to be here. I wanted to figure a way to work this out, and fortunately, for us it did, so I’m excited to move forward.”

LeBlanc, 36, started six games for the O’s in 2020, before a stress reaction in his left elbow ended his season. He has equal experience starting and relieving over his 12-year big league career, starting 120 of his 240 appearances.

“I’ve never had a preference with role,” LeBlanc said. “For me, it's getting to put on a uniform and it’s always been about being in the big leagues and play in front of some fans. So, whether that’s coming out of the bullpen, whether that’s throwing the first pitch of the game, to me is irrelevant. When they give me the ball I’m going to throw it, when they tell me that’s enough I give it back to them. Whether that’s in the fifth inning, first inning, eighth inning, it doesn’t matter.”

Up next
The Orioles return home for their penultimate game of the spring, handing the ball to Harvey on Sunday against the Pirates at 1:05 p.m. ET at Ed Smith Stadium. Right-hander Mitch Keller will start for Pittsburgh.