TORONTO — To hear New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton tell it, he's on the injured list with a biceps strain thanks to an awkward swing against Dylan Bundy early in the Orioles’ win Sunday in the Bronx.
You'll be forgiven, though, for thinking it happened after that, when Stanton was one of many Yankees sluggers swinging through rookie left-hander John Means' changeup and looking foolish doing it.
The changeup is a pitch Means doesn't typically favor but ended up throwing half the time in his 3 1/3 innings Sunday because it was working. But his work on it this offseason — as he drove across Missouri twice a week to practice at a modern pitching development center — and later this spring with Orioles minor league pitching coordinator Chris Holt illustrates the type of progress that the organization hopes to make with young players during its rebuild.
"His changeup was a neutralizer," manager Brandon Hyde said. "I think they even knew it was coming a lot of times and still couldn't stay back. Just a great changeup mix, dotted some fastballs to keep them honest. It was just a great performance."
That it was such a big part of Means' second major league appearance shows how much has changed since his first, when he was a fastball-slider left-hander in an emergency September relief appearance in Boston.
Days before that improbable call-up that brought him back from his couch in Kansas City to cover for the Orioles' lack of pitching, Means had driven three-plus hours east to P3 Premier Pitching & Performance seeking an offseason program. He had just had a decent year between Double-A and Triple-A, but wanted to add some velocity and take the next step.
"He came in, got assessed, and literally like two days later, he was like, 'Hey man, I know this is nuts, but I'm getting called up,' " P3 co-founder Josh Kesel said.
Means allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings that day in Boston, and once he started throwing in December, he drove across Missouri to stay in a hotel in St. Louis to work with the P3 staff, including instructor Forrest Herrmann — now the Seattle Mariners' pitching strategist — and current instructor Austin Meine. He went home on the weekends.
"It was definitely an investment, but it got me to where I am today, so I can't complain," Means said.
For him, the benefits varied. He wanted to add velocity after sitting in the high-80 mph range for most of 2018, and the strength programs prescribed did that.
"We wanted to get him strong in the right areas, which were maybe more indicative to a little velocity development as well," Kesel said. "He was typically in the low-90 [mph] area there, and we thought that with kind of what he was bringing to the table, that if we did that, that would be a big piece."
That he was touching 95 mph in short stints in spring training meant he was throwing harder than he ever had in his life, and he averaged 91.9 mph on his fastball Sunday. But his fastball wasn't what helped him turn the Yankees lineup over almost twice. It was his changeup, a pitch that the P3 staff said benefited from the educational part of Means' time there, too.
Means immediately took to the technology, such as the Rapsodo camera and radar system and the high-speed cameras that could give him instant feedback on what his pitches did, what worked and what didn't.
"That was a big focal point for us, honestly, being able to see what his ball actually does, and that let him have the understanding of how to use his repertoire has been huge," Meine said.
Meine said they recognized that his changeup was a strong pitch by looking at the data available on public sites such as BrooksBaseball.net, and when it was examined in context of the rest of his arsenal, they started working to maximize what Means had.
"We could see pretty quickly that the changeup was a pitch that has a lot of depth to it, arm-side movement, and played out as a plus pitch,” Meine said. “Now, it's more developing a gameplan for, 'How can we use our repertoire to set that pitch up and make it more effective?' ”
Means said it was never as good as it was Sunday, though, and credits the work he did with Holt this spring in the weeks before the Houston Astros' import, brought over by executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal, went to minor league camp.
"He's the changeup guru, some people tell him," Means said. "He was working with me in spring training with it, and it's coming along nicely. It's nice to see that in a game.
"I think it was just making it look like my fastball, and that's kind of what I've had success with in my career, but I haven't had that kind of dive on it before. So I'm good at making it look like a fastball, but with the dive, it was a strikeout pitch yesterday."
It wasn't a game plan based in the data Sunday, though a left-handed long reliever facing a monstrous right-handed lineup that featured many components of the 2018 Yankees who hit more home runs than any team in baseball history will need a changeup to combat that.
Means lost an 11-pitch battle with Brett Gardner with the bases loaded full of Bundy's runners in the fourth inning, and in the process likely saw that he didn't have the fastball-slider mix he wanted. So after Aaron Judge swung through a changeup one pitch before his two-run single, Means and catcher Pedro Severino realized they had something that worked.
Stanton whiffed on three straight changeups to end the inning with a strikeout, and Means would go on to strike out five while throwing 35 changeups on 79 pitches. The Yankees swung and missed on the pitch 12 times, fouled it off six others, and only capitalized when Means hung one to Gary Sánchez for a home run in the seventh inning.
There's nothing modern about sticking with what's working, but for a pitcher many evaluators said had a ceiling at Triple-A to show the makings of a legitimate major league out pitch by embracing modern methods — both inside and outside the organization — means far more than the win Means helped secure Sunday.
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"I don't think there's any doubt that Sig being at the helm for Baltimore is a huge positive for that organization there," Kesel said. "In all honesty, they're a group that I think a lot of people have seen as a little bit behind the curve when it comes to that, and you can tell he's already started to kind of right that ship. I don't think there's any doubt that he's going to do a great job at bringing in a group of people who are well-versed in that type of stuff, and put players in a great position to develop."