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Asher Wojciechowski returns to mound after blister issue on right middle finger

Asher Wojciechowski returns to mound after blister issue on right middle finger

SARASOTA, Fla. — Asher Wojciechowski knew he threw one bad pitch. And Travis d’Arnaud sent it to the left field stands. 

But aside from the mistake in the second inning, Wojciechowski felt good after his first appearance of the spring, a start against the Braves on Wednesday at Ed Smith Stadium. 

Wojciechowski had to delay his first appearance for a few days after a blister issue on his right middle finger. 

“First time out there, you always kind of have that little self-doubt when it’s been through the offseason,” Wojciechowski said. “It’s nice to go out there and execute pitches and get back into the rhythm.”

He ended the day after two innings pitched with one earned run allowed — the home run — as well as two hits. He struck out two batters on 33 pitches, 24 of which were strikes.

Most importantly, though, the blister issue didn’t hamper the right-hander on any of his pitches.

“I made one mistake to D’Arnaud, first pitch of the second inning,” Wojciechowski said. “Kind of knew he was going to swing and just didn’t execute that pitch. For the most part, just happy with how I felt. Looking to build on each outing and get ready for the season.”

Last season, Wojciechowski threw in 17 games, and 16 starts for the Orioles. He posted a 4.92 ERA in 82 ⅓ innings pitched. He struck out 80 batters and posted a WHIP of 1.31. 

Now, he’s got his sights set on cementing his role in a starting rotation, one that has his name penciled in as one of the first starters.

“I would say my mentality is, yes, win a rotation job no matter what,” he said. I don’t want to change my mindset on how I compete, or how I prepare. I want to go out there and give it everything I have every single day. When it comes to the mindset and preparation, I’m not changing anything I’m doing. That being said, it is kind of nice knowing I have somewhat of a role. But I’m not letting that change the way I prepare.”

One of the things he’s hoping will help gain a more permanent fixture in the rotation is a split-changeup, a pitch he added over the offseason. He threw two against the Braves, to varying degrees of success.

“I was happy with one of them, it was just a little bit off,” Wojciechowski said. “I threw one to (Ozzie) Albies and I thought it was good, it was just a little bit off. Then I threw another one to (Johan) Camargo and it was just alright. Definitely trying to utilize that pitch more, just going to have to throw it in these games and see how it works against hitters.”

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The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

BALTIMORE — At first glance, the corner of West Camden and Eutaw Street in Baltimore offered no signs anything was amiss. 

The wind breezed lightly through the city on a late-March afternoon, where the temperature neared 60 degrees and partly cloudy skies allowed the sun to shine bright on an early spring day. 

The trees that bloomed all around Oriole Park at Camden Yards at every street corner meant warmer weather was here and baseball season had arrived.

On Thursday, though, there was no baseball. There won’t be baseball Friday either, and there won’t be baseball for, at the very least, a few more weeks — and perhaps longer. 

Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced the postponement of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic. There still isn’t a known start date for the 2020 regular season. Instead of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole making his AL East debut against John Means — the likely starter for the Orioles — baseball stood still.

“It’s going to be weird knowing that we’re not playing,” manager Brandon Hyde said last Thursday on a conference call. “But there are a lot bigger things than Opening Day right now and a lot bigger things going on in the world.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to businesses operating in a limited capacity, if at all, as every aspect of life around Baltimore and the U.S. has changed drastically in the last two weeks. As Thursday proved, not even the Orioles are insusceptible. 

Opening Day almost assuredly wasn’t going to be the start of a miraculous run toward relevance for the Orioles. But it was the first chance for fans to see the new look Orioles squad, now in the second year of a rebuild, try and get halfway to the total wins they had over the Yankees last season — two. 

And with the game postponed, perhaps the most human part of Opening Day was canceled, too.

Pickles Pub wasn’t filled to the brim with Orioles fans clad in orange and black, paying no mind to the time or the drinks in their hands. Street vendors weren’t selling hot dogs to parents and kids who decided playing hooky for the day would be a better use of their time. 

John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” didn’t blare through the speakers in the late afternoon for the seventh-inning stretch, either. 

Instead, one of baseball’s most beautiful parks was quiet on the most celebrated day of the season.

Neighborhood streets and parking lots around Camden Yards were filled with cars, but only because everyone sat at home with no baseball game to attend to. 

The earliest, and 66th, Opening Day in Baltimore Orioles history didn’t happen. The Orioles are now ontrack, should the season resume, for the latest Opening Day in history. 

For now, the park will remain closed. Over 10 days ago, the CDC recommended gatherings of more than 50 people be stopped for at least eight weeks, which could lead to some clues as to when Eutaw Street is filled once again.

That reality is, however, that the corner of West Camden and Eutaw will remain quiet for the foreseeable future. 

Opening Day will come for Baltimore in the 2020 season. 

The biggest question, though, is when?

“Opening Day is such a special day, and there’s a lot of emotions that go through everyone involved in an opening day ceremony,” Hyde said. “It’s something you never forget. This year is going to be pushed back. Now, we’re going to be looking forward to the 2020 opening day, whenever that is.”

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Opening Day postponement delays a game the Orioles have dominated for 20 years

Opening Day postponement delays a game the Orioles have dominated for 20 years

The Orioles have had their share of struggles since the turn of the century, but one event has always brought hope and joy to their fans: The home opener.  

 With the 2020 MLB season on hiatus for now, O’s fans are facing an indefinite wait for their annual unofficial holiday. But it never seems to matter how rough the previous year was for the Orioles. Fans never fail to turn out in droves to ring in the new season. Rain or shine. Warm or cold. The atmosphere at Camden Yards remains electric when the baseball season begins again, a sea of orange and black full of smiles and anticipation.  

Even last year – one that began with most fans knowing the worst season in team history was in store – the ballpark hosted 45,971 for the home opener against the Yankees on April 4. Over the past 20 years, O’s fans have been rewarded for their optimism on Opening Day. Baltimore is 15-5 this century. That’s shocking given how many rough seasons followed those wins. The Orioles didn’t have a single winning season from 2000 to 2009, but still managed to win eight of 10 openers. Today should have been a time to gather at Camden Yards and see if they could build on that streak.  

Eventually, we will kick off a new decade of Baltimore baseball. Until then, let’s look back to some of the more memorable openers of the past ten seasons, a decade in which the team had four winning seasons, made the playoffs three times and reached the American League Championship Series in 2014.  

2013 

The 2013 season saw added buzz surrounding the new season, with the O’s coming off their first playoff appearance in 15 years. The previous year, the franchise changed logos to a throwback variation of their iconic cartoon bird. With the team’s new success, and gear, it was easy to find fans across the city sporting the new look. 

It certainly added to the anticipation. The Orioles opened on the road and took two of three against the Tampa Bay Rays with Chris Davis homering in all three games. The Minnesota Twins then arrived in Baltimore for a three-game series. The O’s entered the bottom of the eighth inning of the home opener trailing by a run. An Adam Jones single tied the game, and with the bases loaded later in the inning, Davis cranked a grand slam to left to give the O’s a 9-5 lead and eventual win.  

The Orioles would go on to win 85 games that season, though that wasn’t quite good enough for another playoff spot. That hot start for Davis was a sign of things to come, as he hit a franchise-record 53 home runs to lead the majors. It’s also worth noting this performance kicked off four straight years that an Orioles player took the MLB home run title. Nelson Cruz hit 40 in 2014, Davis again led everyone with 47 in 2015 and Mark Trumbo homered 47 times in 2016. 

2014 

The Orioles entered the 2014 season with even more hype, being picked by many as the American League favorite. They beat the Red Sox 2-1 in the home opener, with Cruz hitting a home run in the bottom of the seventh for what became the winning run.  

Winning the home opener is always great, and for most fans, taking down the Red Sox or Yankees is an added bonus. In a city that often struggles to keep visiting teams’ fans from taking over the stadium, O’s fans often find themselves competing for those “Let’s Go, O’s!” chants.  

But 2014 was a renaissance at Camden Yards, a reminder that not that long ago they packed 3 million fans a year into the beauty of a ballpark – and most of them were Orioles fans. But all the losing took a toll on attendance. The Orioles dipped under 3 million for the first time in 2002 and under 2 million for a four-year stretch from 2008 to 2011.  

That started to change in 2014 when 2.464 million fans made it to Camden Yards. That was the most since 2005 and the high-water mark of the decade. That’s how excited area fans were for the 2014 season and – for the first time in a while – it helped keep Red Sox and Yankees cheering to a minimum.  

It was also emblematic of what was to come, as the Orioles won 96 games and the AL East that season before falling to Kansas City in the ALCS.  

2016-18 

The numbers get really fun from 2016 to 2018. The O’s won all three home openers, and all three were won 3-2 thanks to a walk-off hit. 

In 2016, Matt Wieters hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the visiting Twins. The start of the game was delayed for nearly two hours, and then again for another hour after the second inning. Chris Tillman started the game, throwing two scoreless innings with no hits, but could not last through the second delay.  

The bullpen took over for the remaining seven innings, including five relievers who only allowed two runs on seven hits, a sign of things to come from a unit that helped key the team’s 2016 postseason run. 

In 2017, Mark Trumbo hit a two-out, walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Blue Jays. Trumbo was coming off his home run title the year before, so fans were thrilled to see him pick up right where he left off.  

Finally, in 2018 - and again in the 11th inning - Adam Jones hit a lead-off homer to beat the Twins. Dylan Bundy started the game for the Orioles and pitched seven shutout innings. The Twins scored twice to tie the game in the top of the ninth. But in what would wind up being his final season in Baltimore, Jones played hero once more. 

The Orioles went 7-3 in home openers from 2010 to 2019, book-ending the decade with losses in 2010 and 2019. That sums up the decade well. They came into this stretch consistently losing games, found some unorthodox success for five years, and then tailed off into their current rebuilding state.  

But none of those struggles matters much come Opening Day at Camden Yards. The Orioles usually rise to the occasion. And with the 2020 season facing a prolonged delay, when Opening Day finally does return to Baltimore it will have more meaning than ever. 

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