SARASOTA, Fla. -- Over the course of the Orioles’ 11-5 spring home-opening win over the Red Sox on Sunday, the wide spectrum of the their rotation competition was plain to see. Covering the first two innings was lefty Wade LeBlanc, a 35-year-old journeyman of seven teams. Then logging three of the final seven frames were Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, two 25-year-old Rule 5 Draft picks with a combined two games of experience above the Double-A level.
If nothing else, it spoke to the common thread running through the main battle of Orioles camp: It’s a crowded, varied mix. Now comes the business of sorting them all out.
“Competition is always good for everybody in camp,” LeBlanc said. “Especially early, because the need to perform is always there -- even on Day 1.”
That’s true of probably every Orioles starter except Alex Cobb and John Means, the only two the club has publicly committed spots in the rotation. The rest appears wide open, from mid-rotation options Asher Wojciechowski and Kohl Stewart to non-roster invitees LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, to prospects Bailey, Rucker and Keegan Akin, and even others.
Some have more of an inside track than their competitors. But all could also benefit from the strong first impression like LeBlanc made Sunday, striking out two across two scoreless innings in his Orioles spring debut.
“He just needs to go out and prove health,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He threw strikes, commanded his pitches to both sides of the plate and kept guys off balance. That’s what he’s been doing for a while now.”
LeBlanc said he’s “not trying to impress anybody at this stage” in his career, indicating his long body of work speaks for itself. The 11-year vet is simply trying to win a rotation job after turning down offers from other clubs with less opportunity.
“I’m 35,” he said. “If they don’t know who I am as far as a pitcher, we got problems.”
The Orioles are much less familiar with Bailey and Rucker, having drafted them from the Astros and Cubs, respectively, this past December. A 5-foot-10 right-hander, Bailey was originally acquired by Houston from the A’s for Ramón Laureano in 2017, when O's executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias ran the Astros’ scouting department. He is a veteran of the Driveline Baseball pitching lab in Seattle, utilizes five distinct pitches -- “A bag of tricks,” Hyde calls them -- and draws rave reviews for his makeup and intellect.
Bailey was charged with a run on three hits and struck out two over two innings Sunday, when his four-seamer topped out at 93 mph on the stadium gun.
“They’ve both come in hungry and understand the opportunity they have, and they’re appreciative and excited to be here,” Hyde said. “We’re going to throw them out there and see what we have.”
Listed at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Rucker is a sinker-slider righty of a more traditional build and a former 11th-round pick to the Cubs in 2016. He mostly sat 93-94 mph with his fastball and in the low 80s with his sinker Sunday, striking out one over a scoreless frame.
While Hyde has mentioned Bailey, specifically, as a rotation candidate, the Orioles have been less public about how they view Rucker, who made almost exclusively multi-inning relief appearances last season. It would also make sense that either Bailey or Rucker would need to pitch out of the ‘pen for the Orioles to keep both on the active roster all season. If they don’t, they must offer Bailey or Rucker back to their respective clubs for $50,000.
Big fly for Bry
The first home run of the Orioles' spring came Sunday via veteran backstop Bryan Holaday, who is in camp competing for the backup catcher job. Holaday cleared the left-field wall with a solo shot off Boston lefty Jhonathan Diaz in the eighth.
Flash the leather
Mason McCoy is responsible for the early defensive highlight of Orioles camp after making a tremendous diving play to rob Josh Ockimy to end the seventh inning. The club’s No. 25 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, is a candidate to begin the season at Triple-A if he turns enough heads this spring.
Designated for assignment earlier this week, utility man Richard Ureña cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk, the Orioles announced. He was then given a non-roster invite to camp, swelling the number of players in Spring Training to 69. Ureña was designated to clear space for another utility player, Andrew Velazquez. The Orioles also have utility-types Ramón Urías, Stevie Wilkerson, Pat Valaika and José Rondón in camp.
Time to tribute
The Orioles held a pregame moment of silence for late congressman Elijah Cummings, who represented Baltimore in the House of Representatives from 1996-2019. He died at the age of 68 this past Oct. 17.
Veteran right-hander Alex Cobb’s spring debut comes on Monday, when the Orioles travel to Clearwater, Fla., to take on the Phillies at Spectrum Field. Philadelphia will counter with righty Vince Velasquez, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 pm. ET. The game can be watched live on MLB Network and MLB.TV, as well as streamed on Gameday Audio.