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John Means spectacular again as Orioles hang on for 3-2 win over Oakland

The last time John Means had a month like this, the Orioles left-hander pitched himself to an All-Star Game.

His April, capped by seven brilliant innings in a 3-2 Orioles win over the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum, has established him as something even greater.

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“I just think he’s completely matured as a major league pitcher, and he’s still continuing to get better,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He doesn’t have a whole lot of major league experience, and he’s just improving. He’s improving. You see a pitcher developing at the big league level every time out. Last year, he was overthrowing, made the adjustment. This year, he’s really executing pitching. If he needs to elevate, he elevates. If he needs to dump in a breaking ball, he can dump in a breaking ball. He’s still got a changeup.

“He’s turning into a complete pitcher.”

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Means went seven innings on 93 pitches and hardly had a blemish, with a pair of runs coming on solo home runs and just three hits and a walk allowed. He struck out nine on a career-best 22 swinging strikes. Oakland whiffed on 23.6% of his pitches, the highest rate of any appearance in his major league career.

The 27-year-old left-hander ends April with a 1.70 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP while striking out 38 in 37 innings over six starts. It’s the best month of his career since June 2019, when as a rookie he had a 1.71 ERA in four starts.

Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means works against the Oakland Athletics during the seventh inning of a baseball game Friday, April 30, 2021, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means works against the Oakland Athletics during the seventh inning of a baseball game Friday, April 30, 2021, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) (Tony Avelar / AP)

But Means is different now. Then, he had a great changeup to keep hitters off his fastball but little else, and rarely pushed deep into games. This edition of Means is able to mix in breaking balls that miss bats as well to keep hitters off-balance.

All game, Oakland hitters took bad swings or worse, didn’t swing at all as pitches cruised over the middle of the plate. The Athletics saw Means on Sunday at Camden Yards and had an idea of what he looked like. They still looked lost against him.

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“You just can’t sit one side of the plate or the other,” Hyde said. “You can’t sit one speed with John. You’ve got to really see the ball and guess correctly a lot of times, and John does a great job of being unpredictable.”

Means said he liked his changeup and slider Friday, but wasn’t happy with his fastball command. He credits his overall improvement with not only his pitches being better, but his mentality.

“I think last year, I would get really frustrated when things weren’t going well,” he said. “I’ve done a good job with staying within myself, letting the game come to me. I’m just not making any moment too big, even with guys on base.”

He hasn’t had to deal with base runners often, though. Oakland went 0-for-4 with a runner on against Means, and he’s allowed just seven singles and a walk in 38 plate appearances with a runner on this season.

Five of the seven runs he’s allowed this year have come on solo home runs — the least damaging kind — and that’s the stuff of top-level starting pitchers. Entering Friday, just four starters had pitched at least 30 innings with over a strikeout per inning and a WHIP better than Means: Jacob deGrom, Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow.

“It feels pretty good, but I don’t want to sit back and look at it,” Means said.

Paul Fry and Travis Lakins Sr. combined for a scoreless eighth inning in relief of Means, and César Valdez allowed two singles to begin the ninth before stranding them for his sixth save of the season.

Baltimore Orioles' Austin Hays (21) high-fives teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against Oakland Athletics during the third inning of a baseball game Friday, April 30, 2021, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Baltimore Orioles' Austin Hays (21) high-fives teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run against Oakland Athletics during the third inning of a baseball game Friday, April 30, 2021, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar) (Tony Avelar / AP)

Bash buddies

After Oakland’s second-inning home run put the Orioles down early, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays hit back-to-back home runs to erase that deficit.

Otherwise, the Orioles offense was its frustrating self. Mullins grounded out to score the Orioles’ third run in the fifth inning, but they left a runner at third base in that inning and the sixth, and Ryan Mountcastle — who led the way with two of their eight hits — made the second out of the ninth inning at third.

Hyde said: “It would be nice to score a couple more to give a little bit of breathing room in the ninth inning for all of our pitchers. [We had] opportunities to score a couple times. We’ve just got to be able to push more runs across when you have a lead or you allow good teams to get back in the game and set yourself up to make it tough on yourself. We made it hard on ourselves tonight. We had some innings where we need to push a couple runs to make it easier on our pitchers.”

Franco sits

Third baseman Maikel Franco had played every inning of the Orioles’ first 25 games before Friday, but manager Brandon Hyde said a mix of some bumps and bruises and a sore lower back meant Franco got a day off.

Rio Ruiz took over at third base, and Ramón Urías went to shortstop with Pat Valaika at second base. Freddy Galvis hasn’t played since Monday due to an adductor issue, though Hyde said he was nearly a return.

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