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Orioles All-Star John Means flashes mattress-fueled velocity increase in rough 2020 debut

Orioles All-Star left-hander John Means credits the tantalizing increase in velocity he displayed in his 2020 debut Thursday to throwing into a mattress in his garage throughout the lengthy quarantine the coronavirus pandemic required.

“I had a lot of time to myself,” Means said. “Sometimes, it’s better off with that sort of catch play because you’re not really worried about where it’s going but really just focusing in on your motion and how your body feels.”

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Means said he used the quarantine-mattress sessions to work on keeping his front side closed more, allowing him to better stay on plane toward home plate. In Thursday’s start against the New York Yankees, Means’ fastball averaged 95.2 mph, a large spike from 2019′s 91.7 mph, per Statcast. His average changeup velocity was also higher, at 84.1 mph compared to 80.9 mph last year.

Unfortunately for Means, the Yankees couldn’t offer the same spring-loaded comfort, tagging him for five runs in the first inning en route to the shortest start of his young major league career in what became an 8-6 Orioles loss at Camden Yards.

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But there were plenty of positive takeaways for Means in the outing. He generated nine swinging strikes among his 51 pitches; at 17.6%, that was the third-highest rate of any start of his career.

His first pitch of the night was tracked by Statcast to be 94.7 mph, matching his highest velocity from 2019. He topped that mark 13 times in the first inning alone, touching 96 mph six times.

Generally, though, Means struggled with his command in a 37-pitch first. After a leadoff groundout, he hit two batters, surrendered an RBI single, issued a walk and allowed a grand slam to New York’s Luke Voit — the first bases-loaded home run Means has given up in the majors.

“I probably made one bad pitch, and that was the home run,” Means said. “But other than that, I thought my stuff was good.”

He rallied by retiring the next six batters, but with manager Brandon Hyde wanting to be cautious with last year’s AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, Means lasted only 2 1/3 innings in a season debut delayed four months by the coronavirus pandemic and a few days more by a bout of arm fatigue.

Means was initially announced as the Orioles’ Opening Day starter but he instead began the year on the injured list. Hyde took the increased velocity Thursday as a sign of improved health.

“Probably felt a little too good,” Hyde said. “I think he was just anxious to get out there. Just didn’t have really good command obviously in the first inning, and then had a good inning-plus after that.

“The silver lining is that’s something positive to build on for his next start.”

The shortness of Thursday’s debut was expected, but three of Means’ five briefest starts have been against the Yankees, posting a 13.97 ERA against them in those outings. He has a 3.28 ERA in 25 starts against other teams.

Means said the only issue for him Thursday was Voit’s homer, and that in the prior two starts, he “didn’t have my best stuff.” That certainly wasn’t the case Thursday.

“It’s just a little adjustment that I made that I like a lot,” Means said. “Hopefully, next time, I get some results with it.”

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