Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has spent this season offering effusive praise after practically every John Means start, often with one complaint: He wished the rookie would pitch deeper into games.

Means, the Orioles’ left-hander, exceeded five innings in only four of his first 13 starts after a move into Baltimore’s rotation. Often, it was because his pitch count sailed into the 90s or beyond by the time he got to that point.


But since breaking out of his second-half funk, Means has consistently been something he wasn’t, even as he pieced together an All-Star first half: efficient. Although Means surrendered five runs in 5⅔ innings in Monday’s loss to the Detroit Tigers, he has averaged roughly five fewer pitches per inning in his past five starts than he did in his first 19. In all five of those outings, he has worked into the sixth inning, pitching into the seventh in four of them.

“I think teams are aggressive on him, more aggressive than they were early,” Hyde said. “He’s done a nice job of making pitches early in the count and getting some easy outs.”

During this five-start stretch, Means has thrown three of his four pitches in the strike zone more regularly, with the exception of his changeup. Yet among players who have thrown at least 50 changeups since Aug. 24 — the date of Means’ first start in this span — no pitcher’s changeup has been put in play more often than Means’, per Statcast.

Along with his changeup being put into play 10% more often, the amount it has been fouled off has halved. Before Aug. 23, Means’ changeup had the eighth-highest foul-ball rate among pitchers who had thrown at least 500 (20.2%). In his past five starts, it’s been fouled off only 9.4% of the 117 times it has been thrown, the fifth-lowest rate for pitchers who have used their changeup at least 50 times in that same span.

On all of his pitches, Means’ foul-ball rate in this stretch is nearly 5% lower than his previous outings.

“Because of the pitch mix,” Hyde said. “They can’t sit on one or two pitches.”

That’s because Means has also increased the swing-and-miss rates on his two breaking balls, with it doubling on his slider and tripling on his curve. Both pitches, like his fastball and changeup, are also being fouled off less and put in play more.

Since Aug. 24, 22.9% of his pitches have been put in play, the third-highest rate of the 115 pitchers with at least 300 pitches thrown in that time. But only eight of those 115 have allowed a lower batting average on those balls in play than Means.

“I think I’m more aggressive,” Means said. “I think I’m coming at [batters] a little more. I’m letting them have contact, but that also causes the games like [Monday] where they’re able to score a few runs.”

Means and the Orioles trailed 2-0 after his first four pitches Monday, when Detroit’s first two batters tripled then homered on successive pitches. From there, Means retired 12 in a row, with 10 outs coming on balls in play.

But those balls found holes in the fifth and sixth innings, with the Tigers tacking on three more runs against him.

“I kept my pitch count down, but at the same time you’ve got to get the strikeouts, you’ve got to get the outs,” Means said. “And I didn’t do that.”

After posting an 8.34 ERA in his first five starts out of the All-Star break, Means has a 3.35 ERA in his past six outings. He likely has only a couple left in his rookie season, but even in disappointing outings, he’s still showing an ability to improve.

“Whether he has a couple bad starts or not, it’s probably not going to take away the season he’s had and how he’s proved to everybody he’s a major league starter,” Hyde said. “He’s done a great job for us all year long.”

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