John Means’ contribution to the Orioles’ 9-4 loss to the New York Mets on Wednesday evening at Camden Yards counted as progress, which says plenty about how he’s following up an All-Star debut season.
Means, the runner-up for 2019 American League Rookie of the Year award, pitched into the sixth inning for the first time this season but allowed two home runs, the second coming on his 81st and final pitch and landing in the second deck.
Now, with just a few starts left this season, all the Orioles will hope for is something positive for Means to take home this offseason.
“I think It’s just command and continuing to throw him out there every five days,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “It’s really all about fastball command and that changeup back and not cutting it. I do see flashes of good breaking balls, but I just feel like every pitch is max-effort.
“Last year, it was just a little smoother in the delivery. Second half when he struggled, you saw a lot of elevated fastballs, elevated changeups. But early on, especially in that first half and toward late September, he really got back to a really nice delivery and locating his fastball in and out. Right now, for me, he’s just trying so hard. There’s just a lot of effort in every pitch.”
Means said: “I don’t like losing. I don’t like getting hit. And that’s what’s been happening. I’m just trying to do the best I can to get back to feeling good, feeling right. I’m confident that I can get there.”
It’s been a difficult season in which Means missed his scheduled Opening Day start with a tired arm, then pitched twice before missing over a week to return home to the Kansas City area to be with his family after his father, Alan, died of cancer.
But his struggle of building back up his arm and keeping the ball in the ballpark with his new hard-throwing arsenal have meant that Means has just a few more starts to salvage a sophomore season that hasn’t gone according to plan.
Means said he’s never had worse fastball command in his life than he did Wednesday, which Hyde believes is correlated to his increased fastball velocity.
“I feel like he’s still trying to get a feel for that too. I don’t know if the late ramp-up and the inconsistent work that he’s done the last month — it just doesn’t seem like the fastball command is where he needs it to be,” Hyde said.
Catcher Pedro Severino said the Means who pitched Wednesday was “not even close” to the one the Orioles came to expect last year.
“I’ve never seen him like that exactly,” Severino said. “John Means is a great pitcher, and he commands every pitch. ... It’s really tough. It’s really hard. It’s a frustration for him and for us too because we know how good he is, and nothing worked today. He tried to do his best.”
Things started poorly for Means after J.D. Davis singled and scored on a home run by Michael Conforto to put the Orioles (16-20) in a 2-0 hole in the first inning. He had to battle to strand two in the second inning before settling in well, and the Orioles had a two-run second thanks to a run-scoring single by Ryan Mountcastle and a bases-loaded hit batter with Cedric Mullins at the plate.
That tie lasted until the fifth inning when Conforto hit a run-scoring double, and when Means returned for the sixth, he got a first pitch groundout before Pete Alonso hit a 2-0 changeup that caught the heart of the plate into rare territory at Camden Yards. His was just the fifth second-deck home run in left field in the park’s history, and first since 2017.
Means left having lowered his ERA to 8.10 with 5⅓ innings of eight-hit, four-run ball. He struck out one and walked one, and has allowed eight home runs in 20 innings.
Once Means left, the Mets tacked on runs off Travis Lakins Sr., Cole Sulser and Evan Phillips to turn it into a rout.
The Orioles made a small comeback in the ninth, with two runs scoring on an infield single by José Iglesias that also featured two Mets errors. Iglesias has seven multi-hit games in a row.
First baseman Renato Núñez was in one of his hot stretches with four home runs in seven games, but was 0-for-3 Wednesday before he was replaced for the top of the seventh by Dilson Herrera.
Núñez slowed up on his trot to first on a fifth-inning groundout, but remained in the game for the sixth inning before leaving the game the next inning.
Hyde said he came out with a hamstring injury and will be day-to-day, another blow to an Orioles team that is also missing Hanser Alberto (knee), Austin Hays (ribs) and Chris Davis (knee) from its Opening Day lineup.
The Orioles’ big offensive inning came with a bit of a scare attached. Pedro Severino laced a ball to deep center field and Jake Marisnick slammed full-speed into the wall in pursuit. Marisnick stayed in the game after leaving massive sweat stains on the wall cover, and Severino stood at third with his first career triple.
Hello, old friend
Miguel Castro was dealt from the Orioles to the Mets on Monday, spent Tuesday in roster purgatory, and made his debut for his new club Wednesday at Camden Yards. He allowed a two-out single to Mountcastle in a scoreless eighth inning.
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