Chris Holt doesn’t remember the exact details of his first meeting with John Means. But the Orioles’ pitching coach and director of pitching recalled Friday his early impressions of the left-hander who some two years later pitched Baltimore’s first complete game no-hitter in more than half a century.
Two days removed from Means striking out 12 in a dominant no-hit performance against the Seattle Mariners, Holt thought back to the spring of 2019, when he was a newly hired minor league pitching coordinator plucked from the Houston Astros organization and Means was scraping simply to make Baltimore’s major league roster. During those early bullpen sessions, Holt helped Means craft a changeup that became his signature offering; 14 of his career-high 26 swings-and-misses Wednesday came on the pitch.
“I saw the potential in what he has available to work with, similar to discussions I have with any pitcher,” Holt said. “Having an opportunity to meet with him, get to know him, see where he felt like he was good and working to just take a step forward in what he has available.
“You work to give them accurate information and lead them in the right direction. John Means is a self-made, self-motivated guy who took a little information and ran with it. He’s one of the most consistent, hardworking athletes I’ve ever encountered.”
Means, 28, was generally overlooked in both his amateur and minor league careers, transferring high schools to make varsity, beginning his collegiate career at a junior college, and never ranking highly on Baltimore’s top prospect lists. Manager Brandon Hyde said his earliest impressions of Means were mostly lost amid getting to know as many players as possible that same spring training, his first atop Baltimore’s coaching staff. A late spring outing in Tampa and a desperate need for length out of the bullpen persuaded Hyde to include Means on the club’s Opening Day roster.
Once provided a regular opportunity in the majors, Means capitalized.
“He’s taken it and run with it,” Hyde said Friday. “Just pitching outstanding.”
Using the changeup he honed with Holmes, Means thrived in the first half of his rookie season and represented the Orioles in the 2019 All-Star Game. After an increase in velocity to open the 2020 season did not bring with it improved results, Means has settled in back toward his early 2019 form — and actually been better. Over 11 starts since Sept. 8, 2020, Means ranks first among qualified starters in batting average against, WHIP and win probability added, as well as second in ERA and innings, according to FanGraphs.
Despite Means’ dominance of late, Holt stopped short of saying he expected a performance like Wednesday’s.
“You’re always surprised by a no-hitter or a near perfect game,” Holt said. “He’s been amazing with how he’s been consistent with how he’s approaching his outings, with how he’s attacking hitters consistently. I think we saw just a notch above that in the no-hitter, obviously. So surprised at an amazing performance? No, he’s been very consistent, but a nice treat and what an amazing, amazing performance that that was and the first of its kind.”
By that, Holt referred to Means’ no-hitter being the first in major league history in which the only base runner reached via a dropped third strike, with Sam Haggerty making it to first safely in the third inning after swinging through a two-strike curveball that got past catcher Pedro Severino for a wild pitch.
Despite that being all that separated Means from the 24th perfect game in history, Holt said focusing on the rule that allows batters to reach in that way dilutes the story of Means’ outing.
“You have to accept things the way they are at the time,” Holt said. “I think you have to really not look at that as much as look at the amazing performance that Johnny and Sevy put together, despite anybody’s talk about a dropped third strike. To appreciate that outing and to not let that be a piece of the narrative is really the most important thing. Phenomenal performance from start to finish.
“There was never any notion that he was protecting a no-hitter or anything like that, so to bring in the dropped third strike and make that a real big piece is really not doing justice to the bigger piece of the narrative there, which was just how phenomenal a performance that really was on both his and Severino’s part.”
Around the horn
Hyde said outfielder Anthony Santander (sprained left ankle) is jogging and “very close” to beginning baseball activities. … Right-hander Mac Sceroler (right shoulder tendinitis) is also progressing and was scheduled for a side session Friday.
Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
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