SARASOTA, FLA. — Left-hander John Means didn’t get out of the second inning in his exhibition debut, but he did what he set out to do in the split-squad Orioles’ 15-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium.
Means located a 93 mph fastball and showed off his deadly changeup, throwing 25 of his 39 pitches for strikes. He allowed two runs on three hits over 1⅓ innings and struck out three, but the results might have looked better if not for a wind-blown triple in the second inning by Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe.
“In spring training, you’re not too worried about results,” Means said afterward. “You’re really just worried about you you feel, how the ball’s coming out, how the hitters react. I honestly felt really good. The fastball was there. The changeup was there. The curveball was there. So, yeah, I definitely felt better than the two runs showed.”
The home game against the Rays was half of a split-squad day that featured a road game against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers that also devolved into a very lopsided defeat.
Rookie right-hander Tom Eshelman made the other start, pitching two scoreless innings and allowing just one hit in the 12-4 loss at Jetblue Park.
“One time out, you’re not going to make the team off one time out," Eshelman said. "I just continuously work hard every day to put myself in a good position and just literally take it day-by-day, and don’t try to look ahead, but look at what I need to do tomorrow to get myself right for my next outing.”
Means is coming off a breakthrough season during which he was the only Orioles representative at the All-Star Game and finished second in the voting for American League Rookie of the Year.
He was the most pleasant surprise of another difficult season, but came to camp this spring with a chance to be the Orioles’ Opening Day starter.
“I always pitch like my back is up against the wall, so I’m going to keep that mentality throughout my entire career,” Means said.
Means and an if-healthy Alex Cobb are really the only pitchers who are firmly projected to be in the big league rotation come Opening Day, but manager Brandon Hyde said Tuesday that there are more candidates this spring than at this time last year.
Whether that translates into a significantly better rotation remains an open question, even to the manager.
“We have 69 guys in camp, so we have options, but I want to see who are the best options at the end of camp," Hyde said before the game. "There are a lot of guys we haven’t seen. Keegan [Akin] got his first outing yesterday. Dean [Kremer] threw one-plus innings yesterday. [Bruce] Zimmerman hasn’t even thrown yet. Tommy Milone hasn’t pitched yet. There’s such a long way to go, I don’t know what we’re going to look like three weeks from now and how they’re going to stack up.”
Though Orioles starters combined for a 5.57 ERA in 2019, Hyde said it’s way too early for him to speculate about the performance of this year’s rotation.
“Am I more confident?" Hyde said. "I think that we have more options than we had last year, or at least we thought we had last year. I think we do have more options now. I have no idea what our rotation is going to look like. We’ll wait and see. It’s going to take the next month to figure that out.”
Davis has a blast
First baseman Chris Davis launched his first home run of the spring in the fourth inning, driving the ball out to left field with a little help from the same gusty wind that worked against Means.
Still, it was a big swing and it kept Davis’ on-base percentage perfect. He has gone to the plate five times in two games and has a homer, a single and three walks.
It’s way too early to draw any conclusions, but the Orioles want to see Davis use the whole field and both of his hits have been to the left side.
Rutschman makes defensive debut
Top catching prospect Adley Rutschman made his spring debut behind the plate Tuesday against the Rays, entering the game as a defensive replacement in the sixth inning. He had appeared in two previous games, once as a pinch hitter and once as a late-inning replacement at DH.
So far, he is hitless in four at-bats.
Around the horn
>> Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski has been dealing with a blister, but he has been moved into the rotation for Wednesday’s start against the Atlanta Braves. Nonroster left-hander Bruce Zimmerman, who was originally scheduled to make the start, will also pitch in the game.
>> Hyde said former top Minnesota Twins prospect Kohl Stewart will resume throwing either Wednesday or Thursday before a decision is made whether to put him back on the exhibition schedule.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article from Fort Myers, Florida.