Orioles Notebook: John Means’ Status Unclear, Dwight Smith Jr. Working His Way Back

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has been noncommittal about the starting rotation outside John Means.

Means, however, is suffering from arm fatigue and might not be able to pitch the opener July 24 in Boston.

“We still haven’t made a decision yet on Opening Day for him,” Hyde said. “We’re definitely going to take a conservative route with John because he means so much to us, and his future, so we’re still weighing our options there. A little bit unclear if John’s able to make the start for Opening Day.”

This opens the door for several other pitchers, most notably Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone, and Thomas Eshelman, according to Hyde. Alex Cobb pitched four-plus innings against the Washington Nationals July 20 and won’t be available on the short rest to pitch against Boston.

Asher Wojciechowski and Kohl Stewart could also be possibilities.

Hyde felt bad that Means might not be able to open the season.

“I know it’s disappointing because Opening Day is a big deal, it’s a big deal for all of us, and I have a lot of sensitivity to that,” Hyde said. “[Means] would potentially be making his first Opening Day start and for that to be in question, I know he’s disappointed.”

Update: Hyde announced July 21 that Means won’t start Opening Day. Milone will start in his place.

Wojciechowski Bullish On Orioles Staff

Asher Wojciechowski is poised to win a spot in the back end of starting rotation after a steady performance last season.

Wojciechowski, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians in July in exchange for cash, has made the most of his opportunity in Baltimore. He appeared in 17 games, including 16 starts, and finished 4-8 with a 4.92 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 28 walks. He had a 1.5 WAR, according to Baseball Reference, and a 1.312 WHIP.

John Means was named the Opening Day starter after an impressive rookie campaign, but arm fatigue will likely push him back a few days. Alex Cobb is set to occupy another spot. Wade LeBlanc, Thomas Eshelman, Tommy Milone, Kohl Stewart and Wojciechowski are battling to fill out the remaining starting roles.

Wojciechowski, who could possibly hold down the No. 4 spot in the rotation behind Means, Cobb and LeBlanc, predicts the Orioles are poised to surprise some observers this season.

“I really like our rotation,” Wojciechowski said. “When people say we’re a rebuilding team, I feel like we have a veteran rotation, guys with a lot of experience. With Wade, Cobb, Milone, and John with the experience he had last year, and then with the experience I had last year with the team as well, I feel like we’re going to push each other, we’re going to learn from one another.

“We all get along great. I think it’s going to be an exciting year for us just moving forward, and we’re going to get better and we’re just going to go out there and compete every day.”

Smith Second Player To Have Tested Positive

Dwight Smith Jr. joined fellow outfielder Anthony Santander in confirming he tested positive for COVID-19 in early July.

Smith reported to camp July 18 after quarantining and was placed on the 10-day injured list July 20 because of the missed time.

“It’s a possibility he could be on our Opening Day roster,” Hyde said.

Smith and Santander had been conspicuously absent from the early part of this month’s workouts, prompting speculation about their health. Both players are back on the field and easing their way back into baseball shape.

While the Orioles won’t formally identify players who test positive for the virus, the players are allowed to personally talk about the experience.

“I had to run a lot of tests to make sure everything was running well with my body and also keeping my distance from everybody in this locker room, so we all had to do our part and make sure before I even stepped foot into this facility,” Smith said. “I feel great now and I’m ready to get ready for the season.”

Last year, Smith made 82 starts in left field and seven starts as the designated hitter. He slashed .241/.297/.412 with 13 home runs and 53 RBIs. Smith, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for international bonus slots last spring, will battle for a starting job this season, and he doesn’t think the missed time this summer will be much of a setback.

“Last year when I came over here it took me about two weeks because I missed time,” he said. “It was like a week of spring training last year, so I feel like I know how to get my body ready in enough time for this moment, and last year kind of prepared me for this year, too, to get ready.”

Injury Updates

Orioles infielder Richie Martin had surgery on the fractured bone in his right wrist, and he is likely out for the season.

Martin was looking to make the team as a utility player and spent time at second base and shortstop throughout summer camp. Pat Valaika, Andrew Velazquez and Dilson Herrera are also competing for utility spots.

“It’s really disappointing, but at the end of the day there’s nothing I can do about it now,” Martin said. “I’ve just got to move forward and stay positive and just tackle this rehab the best way I know how. That’s all I can do at this time.”

Additionally, utility man Stevie Wilkerson suffered a phalanx fracture on his left ring finger while making a sliding catch during an exhibition in Philadelphia July 19. He is expected to miss “significant” time, according to manager Brandon Hyde.

Center fielder Austin Hays was hit on the left knee during that exhibition game against the Phillies as well. He sat out the following day against the Nationals.

“He’s a little sore,” Hyde said. “It kind of got him on a bad spot on the side of his knee area.”

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Todd Karpovich

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