The Orioles brought Félix Hernández, Matt Harvey and Wade LeBlanc into camp on Minor League deals this winter knowing full well all three likely weren’t going to head north with the club come Opening Day. It was just unclear which reclamation projects would, and which wouldn’t, pan out this spring.
Things are more clear now that Hernández has opted out of his Minor League deal, the club announced Monday afternoon, bringing Baltimore's pitching plans further into focus. Hernández, who has been dealing with right elbow soreness since mid-March, simply ran out of time to make the club.
Hernández would have earned $1 million had he broken camp with the Orioles. He is now a free agent.
The 34-year-old Hernández last pitched in a regular-season game in 2019 for the Mariners, for whom he was a six-time All-Star, a two-time ERA champion and the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner. He competed for a job in the Braves' rotation in last season, but elected not to play due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hernández arrived at Orioles camp this winter hoping to build on his borderline Hall of Fame candidacy, but he returned to the mound with fastball velocity in the mid-80s and pitched to a 7.94 ERA in Grapefruit League play. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said Hernández had been receiving daily treatment on the elbow for the past week or so and threw a bullpen session this weekend, but he provided few other details.
Hernández's departure allowed the Orioles to shore up several roster decisions on the pitching side. They set their rotation prior to concluding their Grapefruit League schedule with Monday’s 8-3 loss to the Rays at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., filling the two spots behind John Means, Harvey and Bruce Zimmermann with right-handers Jorge López and Dean Kremer.
López, who was out of Minor League options, beat out Hernández, Baltimore's No. 11 prospect Keegan Akin and others by pitching to a 2.75 ERA in six appearances (three starts) this spring. Kremer, the club’s No. 8 prospect, made the team more on the heels of his 2020 debut (4.82 ERA in four starts) than his uneven spring (6.32 ERA).
The rotation alignment lines up López to start the opening game of the second series of the year, April 5 at the Yankees, and Harvey to start the club’s April 8 home opener.
The rotation, in full:
LHP John Means
RHP Matt Harvey
LHP Bruce Zimmermann
RHP Jorge López
RHP Dean Kremer
The Orioles’ ‘pen isn’t set yet, but it’s close. The O's informed both Rule 5 Draft picks Tyler Wells and Mac Sceroler that they’ve made the team in relief roles, according to a source, locking in all but one bullpen spot. Baltimore now must choose from among three right-handers for that spot: Cole Sulser, Dillon Tate and Travis Lakins. All have Minor League options remaining.
The bullpen, as it stands:
LHP Tanner Scott
LHP Paul Fry
RHP Shawn Armstrong
RHP César Valdez
LHP Wade LeBlanc
RHP Adam Plutko
RHP Tyler Wells
RHP Mac Sceroler
Wells and Sceroler enjoyed nice camps after the Orioles took them in the Rule 5 Draft from the Twins and Reds, respectively. Wells opened eyes by striking out 12 in nine Grapefruit League innings, allowing just one run. All five runs Sceroler allowed came in one inning March 5 against the Blue Jays; he had four other scoreless appearances. Sceroler, who is former O's pitcher and current broadcaster Ben McDonald’s nephew, is making the jump from Class A Advanced.
From the trainer’s room
The main loose end the Orioles need to tie up is gauging the health of Anthony Santander, who took multiple at-bats in a simulated game Monday but was out of the lineup against the Rays for the sixth straight game. Santander has been held out of exhibition play since March 23 due to an oblique issue the O's described as minor and precautionary, though he did miss most of the final month of 2020 due to a serious oblique strain.
Hyde said Sunday he had “no concern” about Santander for Opening Day, but he said Monday that Santander would continue to test and receive treatment for the issue this week. Santander was Baltimore's most productive hitter before his 2020 injury, hitting .261 with 11 homers, 32 RBIs and an .890 OPS in 37 games.
There is more certainty about DJ Stewart’s status: The sore left hamstring that has sidelined the outfielder since early March will force him to begin the season on the injured list. Stewart tweaked his hamstring running up the first-base line March 5 and never returned to Grapefruit League action. He progressed to baseball activity on the back fields in recent weeks but didn’t recover enough to resume sprinting in time for Opening Day.
From the game
Zimmermann capped his ascendent spring with his ugliest outing of Grapefruit League play, allowing seven runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Rays on Monday. The rookie left-hander had thrown nine shutout innings before that, earning a rotation job on the strength of that performance. The Ellicott City, Md., native heads into the regular season as the Orioles' No. 3 starter, scheduled to make his first start Sunday in Boston.
“With this outing, it’s about putting it in the rear view because of all the success I had before and moving forward to regular-season games,” Zimmermann said. “Taking what I didn’t do well, but also doubling down on what I did do well this entire spring, and I’m really focusing on taking that into next Sunday.”
After an off-day Tuesday, the Orioles will work out in Florida on Wednesday, then travel to Boston for Thursday’s Opening Day tilt against the Red Sox. Means will line up opposite Nathan Eovaldi at 2:10 p.m. ET at Fenway Park.