John Means wasn't meant to pitch in the Orioles' rotation when the season began. Now that he is, he's doing it better than anyone has in a long, long time.
Means, the rookie left-hander who has been the solitary bright spot on the team's pitching staff since the first weekend of the season, allowed a home run to the first batter he faced Tuesday night but little else as the Orioles took the first game of a three-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-2, before an announced 12,524 at Camden Yards.
“I think you feel really good when John Means is on the mound, for sure,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “One, everybody loves his tempo. Works quick. He’s aggressive. Throws strikes, so you love to play behind a guy like that, and you love to be in a dugout with a guy like that, where the game is moving, and this guy’s out there battling, and you really feel that when he’s on the mound.”
With five innings of one-run ball, striking out seven and allowing four hits, Means lowered his ERA to 2.60. That's the lowest ERA any Orioles starter has had since Erik Bedard had a 2.08 ERA on this date in 2005, and he’s pitching like he intends to keep it that way.
“If you think you're going to lose or you think you're going to get hit, you've already lost,” Means said. “I go out there with confidence every time.”
Tuesday's effort held up thanks to some production from the top of the order, and the continued success of the Orioles bullpen. Means picked up his sixth win of the year as the Orioles improved to 21-45 and moved to within two games of the fourth-place Blue Jays.
Means allowed a home run to Erik Sogard on the fourth pitch of the game, and that came in a 33-pitch first inning that meant it was never going to be a deep outing for him. But Toronto didn't score again until a fluke pop-up down the right-field line with two outs in the eighth inning off Miguel Castro.
In between, Means kept Toronto down, and a new-look top of the Orioles lineup came up with runners on and pushed them across. Anthony Santander hit a single to right field and scored on a double by Trey Mancini, who came across to score when the next batter, Chance Sisco, doubled to make it a two-run third inning.
Santander got a gift one inning later when he had a towering pop-up fall in right field with Jonathan Villar on second, scoring him and extending the Orioles' lead to 3-1.
When Means exited after five innings, Shawn Armstrong pitched two scoreless innings before giving way to Castro. Villar doubled in the bottom of the eighth to restore the advantage to two runs at 4-2, and Mychal Givens got his sixth save of the season with a perfect ninth inning.
The Orioles bullpen has allowed four earned runs in the past six games.