The Orioles depth chart currently lists three starting pitchers on the club’s depth chart. One finished second in last year’s American League Rookie of the Year award, another is making $57 million over four years, and the third has a last name that produces a red squiggly line underneath it.
Asher Wojciechowski will join John Means and Alex Cobb in Baltimore’s starting rotation next season. It’s unclear who will round out the five, but Wojciechowski very well could be one of the more experienced arms out of the group. That’s quite the feat for a guy who pitched at Triple-A for half of last season.
Executive Vice President Mike Elias has spoken very candidly about the state of the organization. He’s been brutally honest about the club’s philosophy toward winning, the current roster makeup, and how they may or may not improve in the short term. His bluntness shined through once again when speaking about Wojciechowski.
“He’s kind of earned a right of first refusal with how he pitched for us,” Elias said. The GM admitted that Wojciechowski may not be a favorite for a starting spot on a lot of clubs, but the Orioles are not most clubs. The Orioles are in “we’ll take what we can get” mode, and that bodes well for Wojciechowski.
The Orioles bought Wojciechowski from Cleveland last July. At that point in 2019, Wojciechowski held an 8-2 record and 3.61 ERA at Triple-A Columbus. The 30-year-old had two Major League stints under his belt, five games in 2015 and 25 more in 2017, but had never showed enough to stick. It was a low-risk, low-reward move for Baltimore, and it paid off.
Wojciechowski struggled initially, but the Orioles’ glaring need for starters afforded him a few extra chances. He started 0-3, but followed with back-to-back gems in late July. His breakout came when he allowed only one hit over 7.1 innings in a 5-0 victory over the Red Sox. He followed the performance with a three-hit, two-run victory across seven innings against the Angels.
All of a sudden, there was a bit of buzz around the righty. He struck out 10 Boston batters and sat down six more in Los Angeles. Wojciechowski had everyone asking whether his lethal off-speed pitch was a slider, curveball or cutter. It didn’t matter what it was called, as long as it worked.
Unfrotunately, Wojciechowski’s win streak stopped at two. He dropped his next two outings before delivering a quality start against the Astros. The stretch served to be symbolic of an up-and-down, not terrible, not terrific, second half for Wojciechowski. His final stat line read 4-8, 4.92 ERA, 1.312 WHIP. He started 16 games, struck out 80 in 82.1 innings, and finished 1.3 wins above replacement.
Simply put, he ate innings. A decade ago everyone would scoff at an “inning-eater” averaging around 5.1 innings a game, but those people hadn’t seen the 2019 Orioles. Any starter that would go out and grind was welcome, and Wojciechowski did just that.
The thought of Wojciechowski taking the ball every fifth day will not generate a ton of excitement, but he fits the bill. The reality is, the Orioles are likely scouring the free agent market and waiver wire for guys just like Wojciechowski. Guys like him are an integral part to a rebuild like this, and the Orioles are lucky to have him already on the roster and under team control.
That being said, it’s important to keep expectations in check. There’s always a chance the guy takes another step forward, and it’s true that some stability could help a player that’s bounced around quite a bit. Wojciechowski is just a stopgap in the rotation until the O’s prospects show up, but that doesn’t mean he cannot enjoy modest success.
Wojciechowski would ideally slide in as a fifth starter, but the O’s lack of depth leaves him another Alex Cobb injury from slotting in at number two. Elias recently said Keegan Akin could compete for an opening day gig. If Elias is comfortable with Akin pitching at the Major League level right away, it would likely take a brutal spring to keep him out of the rotation.
The Orioles still need to add multiple pitchers prior to Opening Day, but Wojciechowski provides the club a reliable option to take the ball every five days. In 2020, that may be all anyone can ask for in Baltimore.