For the second consecutive year, the Orioles' Opening Day starting pitcher has been derailed by a last-minute injury. Manager Brandon Hyde announced on Tuesday that John Means will be scratched from his starting assignment in Friday's opener against the Red Sox due to arm fatigue.
Tommy Milone will start in place of Means; the Orioles will keep the rest of their rotation lined up as planned rather than start anyone on short rest. That leaves veteran righty Alex Cobb still on track to start the season’s second game on Saturday and left-hander Wade LeBlanc for Sunday's series finale.
It will be the first career Opening Day start for Milone, a nine-year veteran. The well-traveled southpaw is 50-47 with a 4.47 ERA in his career, having pitched for the Twins, A’s, Nationals and three other clubs. He signed a Minor League deal with the O’s in February and had pitched his way into a back-end rotation job.
“He’s had a long career up until this point, been with quite a few clubs, seen a lot of different things,” Hyde said. “He’s hung in there, grinded, had some good years and some tough years.”
The manager added: “It was a great feeling to be able to tell him. His reaction was priceless. It was really exciting.”
Those emotions ran concurrent with the disappointment Hyde said was expressed by Means, who emerged into a surprise All-Star as a rookie last season by going 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA. He first complained of arm fatigue after his intrasquad start on July 14 and eschewed throwing while undergoing treatment until Tuesday afternoon.
A day prior, Hyde said in order for Means to take the mound Friday he needed to “start feeling better, play catch and feel nothing” by Tuesday. That happened, according to the manager, but Means will miss the assignment nonetheless. When Means arrived at Summer Camp, he said he’d built up to five innings and 75 pitches throwing at home in Kansas during the layoff.
Orioles officials have consistently described the issue as minor, comparing it to shoulder discomfort that landed Means on the injured list last June. Means missed just one start.
“I don’t know if I’d characterize it as an injury,” general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said on the MASN broadcast Monday. “He had been throwing continuously since Spring Training. ... He hit a little bit of a wall. We decided we didn’t want to push him out necessarily. We decided to pump the brakes.”
Hyde also said Tuesday he “wouldn’t consider” Means’ issue “as an injury,” characterizing the decision to hold him back as precautionary.
“It wont be long until you see him on the mound,” Hyde said. “It will be just a few days until he is back out there.”
Cobb missed his Opening Day assignment in 2019 due to a groin strain suffered in the final week of Spring Training. That opened a spot on the roster for Means, who quickly jumped to the top of the rotation. If he misses more than a turn through the rotation this time around, righty Kohl Stewart, an offseason free-agent addition, appears the most likely candidate to start in his place.
Hyde revealed Monday that Means isn’t the only promising young pitcher experiencing arm fatigue; the Orioles continue to hold back right-handed reliever Hunter Harvey for the same reason. The flamethrower has a long injury history, missing big chunks of times from 2015-18 due to arm trouble before debuting in ’19. Hyde said Harvey is “going to need a little bit of time,” without specifying further.
“We’re going to be conservative with Hunter because of his past,” Hyde said. “We are going to try to get him as healthy as possible before he gets out on the mound."
At this point, Harvey is questionable for Opening Day. If the issue is minor, one option the Orioles have is beginning the season with Harvey on the 10-day injured list but backdating the stint to July 20, which would allow him to return after a minimum of six games.
Also from the trainer’s room
• The outlook looks more promising for backup catcher Chance Sisco, who has been held out of exhibition action after being hit in the right triceps by a pitch in live batting practice. Sisco resumed throwing and hit Tuesday off LeBlanc, who threw upwards of 90 pitches in a six-inning simulated game at Oriole Park.
• Outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., who is currently on the COVID-19 injured list, also hit off LeBlanc on Tuesday. He remains a possibility for Opening Day.
After two final days of Summer Camp, the Orioles open the 2020 season on Friday against the Red Sox in Boston, live on MLB.TV. Veteran left-hander Milone will fill in for the injured Means to start on Opening Day, opposite Boston righty Nathan Eovaldi. It is the first career Opening Day start for Milone and the first time since 1966 Baltimore will open the season at Fenway Park. First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.