Orioles left-hander John Means' eye-opening start to the season continued Sunday with five strong innings against the Boston Red Sox, illustrating just how much has changed for him since he made his major league debut here in September under inglorious circumstances last season.
Means, who allowed one run and was the hard-luck loser as the Orioles managed just five hits and lost 4-0 Sunday, is embracing the chance to start in the team's patchwork starting rotation. If manager Brandon Hyde's impressions of him hold, he might get a chance to keep doing that.
"I like his aggressiveness," Hyde said. "I like today he dumped a few curveballs or breaking balls in for strikes, too, which he hadn’t done and that’s something that he’s going to continue to improve on and be another weapon for him to have that third pitch. And he did that a few times today just to kind of lock up guys, maybe dump a breaking ball in to get ahead in the count. And again, he had a really good changeup. I like the way he moves around his fastball, a couple punch-outs on elevated fastballs. Pitched with a really, really good tempo and keeps you in the game.”
Means said he didn't have his best stuff Sunday, but credited his changeup with helping him turn over the Red Sox's lineup twice and holding them to four hits, with the only run allowed coming on a sacrifice fly after two straight hits to open the fourth inning.
That sacrifice fly was one of 10 outs Means recorded with his changeup out of 15 overall, with one strikeout in the first inning and six coming on the ground. Against a Red Sox lineup that had just two left-handed hitters, Means' changeup was an equalizer the way that it was in his long-relief outing in New York on March 31 and has been every time he's pitched since. He threw it 25 times out of 82 pitches Sunday (30.8 percent), and 38.2 percent of the time this season. Against right-handers, he's thrown it 52.2 percent of the time.
“The changeup today really saved me," Means said. "Everything else I wasn’t really locating very well. I wasn’t locating in, I wasn’t locating up. It was just, the changeup really saved me today.”
Center fielder Cedric Mullins said that pitch has gotten better since he stood behind him for all those minor league innings together.
"I feel like he's continuing to improve it," Mullins said. "That's the best I've seen it. It's got some great fade to it, and it's great being behind him when it's on. .... He has a great pace. He goes out there, he has a plan and he's able to execute it. He's able to keep guys off balance, he has a great changeup and is able to work his fastball up in the zone really well. He's doing a great job out there."
With the Orioles targeting next weekend’s series against the Minnesota Twins for a possible return off the injured list for Alex Cobb (lumbar strain), it's unclear whether Means will make another start. He'd be in line to pitch that series' opener Friday, and while he wants to be able to help the Orioles however he can, he said that he's more comfortable starting. His 1.98 ERA in 13 2/3 innings is the lowest on the team among active players.
"I just want that role of being able to do whatever they ask me to do and I come to the field ready to go at all times," Means said. "And I do like starting. It’s what I’ve always done. ... I’m just very comfortable.”