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Who will the Orioles tab for Wade LeBlanc’s rotation spot?

While the Orioles haven’t come out and officially announced LeBlanc’s replacement, closer inspection reveals just a few realistic candidates at this point.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles
Wade LeBlanc leaves the mound due to injury on Sunday, August 23rd.
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Last week we looked at two Orioles starting pitchers, Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc, who were on divergent paths as far as results on the mound. Since that time, LeBlanc unfortunately suffered a season ending injury, changing the complexion of the Birds’ rotation this season.

As you probably already know, the injury occurred this past Sunday against the Red Sox and knocked LeBlanc out of the game before be could finish the first inning. He only last 14 pitches — allowing a home run and a walk while also recording two outs — before motioning to the dugout and leaving the mound with a member of the medical staff.

Whenever a pitcher takes the prerogative to motion for someone from the dugout, it’s never a good sign and usually an indication of something serious. In this case it was.

Not much has been revealed about the exact nature or extent of the injury, but it’s been termed as a stress reaction in LeBlanc’s pitching elbow, necessitating his placement on the long-term 60-day injured list.

LeBlanc walked off the mound on Sunday, and for the final time this season, with an 8.06 ERA. Given the nature of his one-year contract, it’s hard to picture him appearing in an O’s uniform again.

Young left-hander Keegan Akin was immediately recalled from Baltimore’s alternate training site at Bowie to take LeBlanc’s roster spot. This is Akin’s second stint with the big league club this season.

Little is known about the rotation beyond tomorrow night’s starter John Means, since the Orioles have not divulged any starting pitchers for the three-game series against the Blue Jays in Buffalo that starts on Friday. So let’s play the guessing game.

According to the order of the rotation it will be Alex Cobb’s turn to pitch this Friday, the 29th, and because of Monday’s off day he would be working on five days’ rest. After that, LeBlanc’s old spot in the rotation comes up, so the team will need a replacement.

Chances are, that pitcher is already on the roster.

There are two candidates that most people are talking about for the open rotation spot, and the first is Thomas Eshelman, who pitched quite well after LeBlanc’s abrupt exit in the first inning last Sunday.

On that day, the Orioles’ swingman helped minimize what could have been a much more dire situation for the bullpen by eating up 4.1 innings in relief. And he didn’t even allow a single run, or a single hit for that matter.

When Eshelman entered with two outs in the first, he walked the very first batter he saw on five pitches. Then he proceeded to retire the next 13 batters in a row before giving way to Miguel Castro to begin the sixth. Unless he’s needed in relief over the next couple days, Eshelman would be lined up well to pitch Saturday, working on five days’ rest.

Over the course of six games this year — including two starts and four relief appearances — Eshelman is carrying a 2.75 ERA, but also a FIP that is more than two runs higher at 4.93. His 0.76 WHIP is directly influenced by a low hit total that includes only 12 hits allowed over 19.2 innings.

Another rotation candidate, Jorge Lopez, fared better in his first appearance with the O’s than his second. He pitched four innings of two-run ball on August 16th after John Means’ start that day only lasted two-thirds of an inning. But five days later against the Red Sox, Lopez allowed five runs over four innings, including five hits, two walks, three strikeouts and one home run.

In his most recent relief appearance on Tuesday, Lopez threw 14 pitches in one inning, working around a single, stolen base and a walk in order to log a scoreless frame. He’s got an ERA of 7.00 right now as an Oriole.

The most exciting rotation candidate — at least in the eyes of most fans — is also probably considered a long shot at this point unfortunately. That person is Keegan Akin, who has all of two major league appearances under his belt after last night.

He gave up three runs over three innings in relief during his initial stint with the O’s back on August 14th, and more recently, he threw a total of three pitches yesterday against the Rays, retiring Austin Meadows on a groundout to end the sixth inning.

Even though that minuscule usage doesn’t necessarily eliminate Akin from consideration for a start this weekend, indications point to the Orioles letting the young left-hander gain experience as a reliever for now.

If only that would change.