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John Means revels in selection as Orioles’ Opening Day starter: ‘I was just fighting for a job'

From time to time, Orioles left-hander John Means has to remind himself to reflect on his career’s trajectory over the past couple of years. Friday’s announcement that he will start the Orioles’ first game of the shortened season in two weeks against the Boston Red Sox provided an opportunity to do that.

“Sometimes, I have to sit back and pinch myself a little bit that this is real and this is happening,” Means said Saturday on a Zoom call. “I’m the Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles, and if you would’ve told me that two years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face.”

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Instead of a March 26 matchup against the New York Yankees at a packed Camden Yards, Means will take the ball July 24 in an empty Fenway Park. He said the atmosphere won’t take anything away from the honor, though he called the circumstances “weird.”

Means was never considered among the organization’s top rung of prospects, but he made his major league debut in 2018 and was a surprise member of the club’s Opening Day roster last year before serving as Baltimore’s lone All-Star in an even more stunning selection given his history. Having never posted an ERA below 3.95 in a full minor league season, Means had a 2.50 ERA in the first half and ended the year at 3.60, finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

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Manager Brandon Hyde made the official announcement Friday, but Means revealed that he had originally been informed of the honor during spring training before the coronavirus pandemic prompted a shutdown. Still, he arrived back in Baltimore this week for the team’s three-week camp out to reaffirm the selection.

“I just kind of assumed I was just fighting for a job,” Means said. “I like to keep that back-against-the-wall mentality and just never get comfortable. I’m just constantly trying to get better, and until I’m told for sure and it’s in writing and he tells me face-to-face, I’m just going to assume that I’m fighting for the job.”

That mentality kept him going not only throughout his time in the minors, but also in a baseball career that saw him have to change high schools to make a varsity team, go to a junior college, and land at West Virginia University only because a member of the coaching staff was evaluating another player at a summer league in which Means was playing.

Early in the 2018 season, Means was back in Double-A for a second straight year and considered retiring. But now that he’s capitalized on his opportunity, Means has no intention of cutting his career short. He said Saturday he grew up admiring Jamie Moyer, a one-time Orioles left-hander who pitched in 25 major league seasons and retired at 49 years old.

“My motivation is to keep playing a child’s game for as long as I possibly can,” he said. “The last thing I want is to have to get a real job. Who wouldn’t want to play baseball for a living? Who wouldn’t want this job? Who wouldn’t want to keep doing this for as long as they possibly can?

“Guys like [Moyer], that’s who I strive to be, that’s who I’ve always wanted to be. I wanted to play this game for as long as I can, and that was my motivation. You might as well wait until they rip the jersey off your back.”

Around the horn

Hyde said it would be “challenging” to get any player who hasn’t yet participated in camp ready for Opening Day. Outfielders Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander have yet to participate for reasons the team has not disclosed. … Right-handed reliever Dillon Tate took a line drive off his forearm during Friday’s intrasquad game and had a precautionary MRI, Hyde said. … Infielder Richie Martin broke a fingernail on the bases Friday and had a cut underneath, but Hyde said he won’t be out long. … Left-hander Ty Blach, who exited Thursday’s intrasquad while warming up for a second inning, is still experiencing elbow soreness, with some inflammation in the elbow, Hyde said.

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