With 2019 All-Star pitcher John Means unable to start on Opening Day due to recent left arm fatigue, the Orioles will turn to a new face, but one that’s been around baseball for quite some time.
Prior to Tuesday’s exhibition finale in Washington, manager Brandon Hyde announced veteran left-hander Tommy Milone would start the season opener in Boston on Friday night. The other candidate to start in Means’ place had been fellow lefty Wade LeBlanc, who instead threw a simulated game Tuesday afternoon and remains on schedule to start the third game of the season against the Red Sox.
Milone, 33, signed with Baltimore as a non-roster invitee in mid-February and owns a 4.47 ERA in 174 career major league appearances, 136 of them starts. He pitched to a 4-10 record and 4.76 ERA in 111 2/3 innings for Seattle last season.
“The bottom line with Tommy is that he would just be getting one extra day rest, so we really keep everybody on regular rest,” Hyde said. “I didn’t want to bring anybody back short. In this kind of unusual space and time where we only had a short time to get these guys ready, they’ve done an amazing job to get ready. We just didn’t want to take the chance of bringing somebody back on short rest.”
Despite Means not being able to start the opener, Hyde provided an encouraging update on the 27-year-old who finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting and emerged as the staff ace with a 3.60 ERA last season. Both Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have emphasized that Means’ recent bout of “dead arm” is not being classified as an injury.
It remains unclear whether Means will begin the season on the 10-day injured list, but he isn’t expected to miss much time in what’s already an abbreviated 60-game schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s really more of a little bit of fatigue like we’ve talked about that he kind of experienced last year at this time,” Hyde said. “We’re just being cautious with him. He played catch today. He threw the ball well. He felt great, so it’s not going to be long before you see him on the mound. He’s just probably going to miss a few days and then be back out there.”
Hyde said he savored the opportunity to deliver the news to Milone, who is entering his 10th major league season and has never started on Opening Day after previously pitching for the Nationals, Oakland, Minnesota, Milwaukee, the New York Mets, and the Mariners.
Milone pitched well in his most recent outing in an intrasquad game on Saturday.
“That’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for these guys,” said Hyde about getting to start the opener. “It’s somebody that’s had a pretty long career up until this point. He’s been with quite a few clubs, seen a lot of different things. He’s hung in there; he’s grinded. He’s had some good years; he’s had some tough years.
“To make an Opening Day start, that’s a special achievement for somebody, and he’s not taking that lightly.”
Means isn’t the only promising young Baltimore pitcher who won’t be ready for the start of the season as right-handed reliever Hunter Harvey is also dealing with arm fatigue. The former first-round pick’s long injury history is extra reason for caution after a healthy 2019 campaign that led him to the majors in mid-August.
“I think Harvey’s going to need a little bit of time,” Hyde said. “We’re obviously going to be conservative with Hunter as well with his past. We’re going to try to get him as healthy as possible and make sure that he’s healthy before he gets out on the mound.”