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Milone and LeBlanc: Two pitchers, same path

@JoeTrezz
February 15, 2020

SARASOTA, Fla. -- So similar were the paths Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone forged to get here, so congruous the back of their baseball cards, that LeBlanc says “We’re basically the same guy.” It’s an overgeneralization, but one rooted in truth. Consider their career numbers, and take your best guess:

SARASOTA, Fla. -- So similar were the paths Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone forged to get here, so congruous the back of their baseball cards, that LeBlanc says “We’re basically the same guy.” It’s an overgeneralization, but one rooted in truth.

Consider their career numbers, and take your best guess:

Pitcher A: 45-47, 4.46 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, 6.6 SO/9 over 11 MLB seasons.

Pitcher B: 50-47, 4.47 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9 over 9 seasons.

“It’s kind of crazy,” LeBlanc says. “I love watching him pitch. Love watching guys like me think up different ways to get outs.”

The parallels are plain to see, ranging from their profiles, approaches, experiences and the reasons both are in Orioles camp. Both LeBlanc, 35, and Milone, who turns 33 on Sunday, are journeyman lefties who rely on guile and command, both registering bottom 2 percentile in fastball velocity and 95 percentile in changeup usage among full-time starters and bulk-inning pitchers last season. Both have pitched in a variety of roles and for at least six teams, most recently as teammates on the Mariners in 2019.

And they both bring a veteran presence into O’s camp, looking to extend their careers by winning spots in Baltimore’s crowded rotation mix after Milone’s Minor League deal became official Friday.

“That was the ultimate goal: To get somewhere where I had a chance to make the rotation out of camp,” Milone said. “Waiting all the way until February, and even after camp starts, was difficult. Throwing bullpens at home I began getting that anxious feeling. But I was happy to do it and end up in the right place.”

Milone said he turned down other Minor League offers for the chance to win a starting job with the Orioles, whose rotation is full of question marks behind John Means and Alex Cobb. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same is true of LeBlanc, who could count the Pirates among his other suitors.

Both began last season in Seattle’s rotation before transitioning to bulk-inning relief roles, as the Mariners employed the opener strategy heavily throughout the summer. LeBlanc and Milone then kept in touch throughout the offseason, and now probably profile as each other’s main competition to crack Baltimore’s 26-man roster spot.

“The offseason was long,” LeBlanc said. “Trying to find a right fit, trying to find someone who still values you and what you can do. Baltimore was the first team to call and I stuck with them, so I’m glad it worked out. I’m glad the opportunity is here. I just have to take advantage of it.”

Of the seven rotation candidates behind Means and Cobb, LeBlanc and Milone are the only two not on the 40-man roster. Both come with traditional relief experience also -- Milone mostly with Minnesota in 2016 and LeBlanc with Pittsburgh in 2017. And both have been through this process before, as veterans in camp on Minor League deals facing an uphill climb.

Two springs ago, LeBlanc signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees, opted out in late March and got a big league contract with Seattle. Milone settled for Minor League deals the past two winters with the Nationals and Mariners, ultimately making 28 combined Major League appearances. LeBlanc called being in the big leagues “priority number one” regardless of role.

"For a guy to be able to hang on and pitch how he's pitched throughout his whole career and continue to do, it is special," O's manager Brandon Hyde said. "We don't have a whole lot of guys like that in this camp, so it's fun to have him here."

There really is only one other: Pitcher B.

Pitcher A was LeBlanc.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.