With Opening Day now eight days away for the Orioles, it’s about time for them to start lining up their starting pitchers for the start of the season. They took the first, obvious step on Thursday morning as manager Brandon Hyde announced that John Means is lined up as the Opening Day starter.
As the only good starting pitcher for the Orioles last year, Means was the obvious choice and pretty much the only choice. That doesn’t make it any less exciting. The Orioles #1 starter is a guy who threw a no-hitter last year! Gone are the days of various baseball pundits weighing in on which team has the worst #1 starting pitcher and the Orioles are among the choices. Means won’t win any Cy Youngs with a 3.62 ERA but he’s certainly not part of the problem for the O’s pitching staff.
With the left-handed Means set to make consecutive Opening Day starts for the Orioles, The Baltimore Sun’s Nathan Ruiz observed that Means will be the first O’s lefty to do this since Dave McNally was the Opening Day starter from 1969-71. That’s good company to be in. For Means, it’s one more little marker of success to show how far he’s come from being a non-prospect. Now he’s been an All-Star, he was a Rookie of the Year runner-up, he’s thrown a no-hitter, and he’s started two Opening Days. Good for him.
Less good company is probably going to be the rest of the Orioles starting rotation. The O’s lone free agent pitching signing, Jordan Lyles, is also officially in the rotation, as expected. The sad fact is the team could do a lot worse than a guy with a 5.15 ERA over 180 innings. A lot of guys did a lot worse than that last season. His being the #2 starting pitcher is not exciting, though.
The partial rotation announcement did come with at least one thing that surprised me. Last year’s Rule 5 pick, Tyler Wells, will begin the season in the starting rotation, Hyde said. At least initially, Wells is going to be used as a tandem or piggyback starter, with no expectation that he might pitch 6+ innings and with a bulk reliever lined up to follow him. I am curious to see how this experiment goes. If the O’s somehow pull off turning a Rule 5 pick into a decent starter, that would be a phenomenal development.
This leaves two spots still to be filled by the players who remain in big league camp. Those announcements will not be settled until closer to the final days of camp. Orioles media over the last couple of days seem to be interested in connecting Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann to the #4 spot, which would line him up to pitch the home opener. I think Zimmermann deserves another shot in the rotation after his non-failure over 14 games last season. Much like Lyles, a lot of guys did worse than Zimmermann did.
The rest of the candidates are a familiar mix of Orioles ex-prospects and barely-still-prospects trying to show they’re better than they performed in 2021: Keegan Akin, Mike Baumann, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther. There’s also 2021 waiver claim Chris Ellis, not currently on the 40-man roster, who started six games for the O’s last year and somehow had a 2.49 ERA to go along with a 5.22 FIP. That second number is probably why they dropped him from the 40-man over the offseason.
Orioles fans are well aware that the composition of the starting rotation to begin this season doesn’t matter very much for the long haul. The excitement will come, hopefully, with Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall, and maybe even Kyle Bradish. Until then, we can enjoy Means, maybe Wells if the experiment goes well, and tolerate whoever is somewhat acceptable out of the rest of the rotation members while the disappointments are cycled out.