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Orioles’ John Means continues to prove himself as piece to build on in 7-3 win over Dodgers

John Means’ previous outing before he held the behemoth Los Angeles Dodgers to two runs on four hits and pitched into the seventh inning in a 7-3 Orioles win Wednesday night at Camden Yards was similarly strong, but he unraveled late.

So Means said after that game that finishing his starts well was what was going to allow the rookie left-hander and Baltimore’s lone All-Star to win over the coaching staff.

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In a season in which the Orioles’ pitching staff has often left manager Brandon Hyde in the dugout looking like a man who really hoped his car would start but isn’t surprised it didn’t, Means has little to be worried about.

“I don’t know what he means by that, to be honest with you,” Hyde said. “He’s been our best starter all year, and he’s given us a chance to win the majority of the games that he’s pitched.”

Wednesday’s effort, which combined with home runs by Jonathan Villar and Pedro Severino ended the Orioles’ six-game losing streak and helped the club match their 2018 win total at 47-98, was proof of all that.

Means had a rather long first inning, which featured a one-out single by David Freese, but outside of Austin Barnes’ third-inning walk, the bases were quiet until Means allowed a leadoff double to Barnes in the sixth inning and a two-run home run by A.J. Pollock.

The contact did get harder in those later innings, prompting Hyde to pull Means with one out in the seventh. But it was everything that Means has excelled at over the course of this breakout season. His fastball velocity wasn’t the best, but his changeup kept getting soft outs until that sixth inning, and his breaking ball grew into a weapon with a season-high seven swinging strikes.

The breaking ball is something both Hyde and Means pointed to as evidence of the progress he’s tried to make this year. Hyde has often cited Means’ slider as important to his development, and Means said Wednesday that this was the first start he tried to throw a curveball “that had a little bit more depth and sweep to it to actually get some swings and misses on” instead of his slider, and the results came quickly. Two of his strikeouts came on the softer breaking ball, and he threw it 12 times.

“The [breaking ball] is definitely improved, and when you’re facing Cody Bellinger, and you’re facing [Corey] Seager, you’re going to need more than just a four-seamer and a changeup they can think about,” Hyde said. “You need something to go away from them, something with some bite, and something that goes down, like a majority of middle-of-the-order left-handed hitters in the big leagues. And you saw that tonight, the swings that Bellinger took. Not a comfortable at-bat, and that was great to see.”

“My curveball was really never a swing-and-miss pitch,” Means said. “It was really a get-me-over for a strike. To see some swings and misses on it today, I was pretty happy with that.”

That will be one of many positive steps Means can take into the offseason.

He’s accounted for most of the success the Orioles’ rotation can boast this year. The team has had 69 outings of at least five innings with three runs or fewer allowed; Means has 18 of them. His 3.47 ERA is the lowest for an Orioles rookie starter with at least 130 innings since Mike Boddicker’s 2.77 ERA in 1983.

And he’s rebounded after a rocky month out of the All-Star break to record a 2.53 ERA over his past five starts. Considering he had a 2.50 ERA at the All-Star break, and an 8.34 ERA in five starts coming out of it, the recent turnaround is coming at the right time for Means.

“With the strong first half that I had, it was my goal to not let it teeter off towards the end, and stay strong, and stay attacking guys,” he said. “I know after the break, it started to kind of teeter and to come back and feel like I’m back in my normal self feels pretty good.”

Means helped make winners out of the Orioles on Wednesday, along with 1 2/3 scoreless innings from Shawn Armstrong on his 29th birthday and a one-run inning from Mychal Givens.

Homers help

Villar’s 21st home run of the season broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh and made history. Villar’s was the 6,106th home run in the majors this year, setting a league-wide record.

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The Orioles led 5-2 after Villar’s home run and 7-2 after Severino homered into the Dodgers bullpen in the eighth.

Big night for Hays

Rookie Austin Hays, who last week made his return to the majors for the first time since September 2017, collected his first hit of the season and added two more in his first career three-hit game. Hays also made several athletic catchers in center field, the position he’s auditioning for a long-term role in for 2020 and beyond.

“I think any time we bring anybody up, we love to see their tools and we love to see guys have success,” Hyde said.

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