With right-hander Alex Cobb coming off the injured list to start the Orioles’ series opener with the Minnesota Twins on Friday, left-hander John Means’ stay in the rotation has temporarily ended. He did not wait long to thrive in his return to the bullpen.
Means pitched the 10th and 11th innings of the Orioles’ 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night, striking out four in two scoreless innings to earn the win. But Means remains an option to receive starts going forward, manager Brandon Hyde said before Thursday’s game. Means, who has allowed two earned runs in eight innings across two starts, will continue to be available out of the bullpen but will likely draw a start sometime after the team’s April 25 day off that follows the upcoming homestand.
“Means is still a starting option, and he’s going to make a lot of starts,” Hyde said. “We’re going to mix him in. He’s going to be doing a little bit of both roles as we go forward.”
The Orioles aren’t adopting a true six-man rotation, nor are they deploying Means in place of one of their other five starters, all of whom are right-handed. Using Means as a starter occasionally will afford Baltimore’s remaining starting pitchers an extra day of rest. With days off bookending the Orioles’ upcoming road trip to Minnesota and Chicago and the subsequent homestand, it’s possible Hyde uses six starters in both of those six-game sets, effectively offering every starter a full week of rest between outings.
“We’re not going to go with a true six starters as of right now, but it’s going to be something we’re going to play with because I do like John on the mound in the rotation,” Hyde said. “Obviously he’s pitched really, really well and deserves to stay in the rotation. We’ve got five other starters, so we’re going to play with it a little bit. Play with the dates, play with the off days. But he’s also pitched really well for us out of the ’pen, so kind of allows us to have a long guy here the next few days and a guy we believe in coming out of the bullpen.”
After Thursday, Means leads active Orioles with a 1.72 ERA in six appearances. Having entered spring training as a longshot to make the 25-man roster, he’s simply happy to remain a part of it, regardless of whether that’s as a starter or reliever.
"I'm just glad I'm here, to be honest with you,” Means said. “I'm just happy to be here in any role they want me to be in.
"Going into spring training, I didn't think I would be here at this point, and just sticking around and doing well, it feels really good."
Cobb, meanwhile, is thankful to be returning to the active roster. Originally Hyde’s pick to start Opening Day, Cobb missed that start with a groin injury. After holding the New York Yankees to two runs in 5 2/3 innings in the Orioles’ home opener, he was placed on injured list a day before his next scheduled start with a lower-back strain, one that caused spasms. He missed two turns through the rotation, with Means starting in his place.
“I'm excited just to go out and compete because it has been too long, but just to feel that competitiveness again and contribute to the team,” Cobb said. “It's been tough; it stinks being the guy that's hurt in the locker room, just taking up space and not contributing on the field when everybody's going through it every day, so glad to be able to go out there and help the teammates.”
Cobb is unsure how many inning he can handle Friday, saying he prefers to leave those decisions to the medical staff and Hyde, and joking it’s unlikely he’ll pitch nine frames. Although his back isn’t fully recovered, the pain is low enough that he can pitch through it.
"I think I'll continue to feel something for a little while, but you've just gotta get to a point where you can go out there and push through it,” he said. “I wasn't capable of pushing through the pain that I had earlier on. There's probably gonna be something there for a little while, but it's definitely manageable, and throughout the course of the season, you're dealing with something at some point in the year, so this is just what's on tap for right now, and I feel totally capable of dealing with this."
Means’ outing Thursday likely keeps him from pitching in relief behind Cobb on Friday. A week later, though, he could follow Cobb in the Orioles’ rotation.
“You definitely want depth; there’s no doubt about it,” Hyde said. “In this league, the more depth you have the better. Things happen all the time, so you want to have problems like this, you want to have guys you want to make decisions on.
“We’d love to keep [Means] in the rotation. We can play with off days to get guys rest. You can push a guy back a day by sliding him in. There are ways you can get creative by keeping him in the rotation."
Around the horn
Hyde said first baseman Chris Davis, who was out of the lineup for the third straight game with a stomach bug, was feeling well enough to be available off the bench Thursday “if needed.” … A couple of days ago, Hyde received a report that Triple-A outfielder Austin Hays was doing “very well” in his recovery from a sprained left thumb and should begin a hitting progression shortly.