John Means did his job in his first major league start Tuesday night, getting the Oakland Athletics to hit ground balls to the Orioles infielders behind him. Turning those grounders to outs, though, proved difficult.
Five of the first six batters the left-hander faced in the second inning hit grounders, with a strikeout of Mark Canha the lone at-bat that gave the Baltimore infielders some reprieve. But only one of those five ground balls was converted into an out as Oakland cobbled together a pair of runs before shortstop Marcus Semien’s three-run home run provided more than enough distance in a 13-2 defeat for the Orioles.
“That was the only mistake pitch that I had,” Means said.
Oakland slugger Khris Davis began the second inning with a well-placed roller to the right side, leaving first base vacated as Rio Ruiz, making his second career start at first base, and Means pursued the ball. A swinging bunt up the third-base line from Chad Pinder gave Means no time to throw and created a two-on, no-out jam. An eight-pitch duel with Canha ended with a strikeout before Pinder was retired at second on Ramon Laureano’s fielder’s choice, the lone ground ball of the frame to end in an out. Jurickson Profar followed with a ground ball between third and short, and although shortstop Richie Martin showed his range in reaching the ball, Profar easily beat the throw to first as a run scored.
The damage should’ve ended there, but third baseman Hanser Alberto’s throw in an effort to retire Josh Phegley pulled Ruiz off the bag, allowing another run to score as Means’ bad luck continued.
“I had a lot of teammates come up to me and say they’ve never seen anything like that with all of those infield base hits,” Means said.
Luck had little to do with the first batted ball Oakland sent out of the infield in the second inning. Semien’s three-run shot to left tagged Means with five runs in his first start in five major league appearances, but only one was earned. He pitched a clean third, his night ending after 60 pitches.
“I thought John threw the ball great,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “They just got some squibber hits on him. Just an unfortunate inning for us. But he threw the ball really, really well. He was locating his fastball. Just got a lot of mishit singles that kind of kept the inning going, but it was unfortunate. He had really good stuff. He had a really good changeup again, located his fastball well, had both sides of the plate, had them off-balance. Just one of those night where they got a few infield singles on them.”
The Orioles’ struggles in the infield were not confined to only when Means, or any of their pitchers, were on the mound. Their first three batters in the bottom of the third reached, but no runs scored. After Martin walked and Jonathan Villar singled, Joey Rickard dropped a hit into center field. Laureano, who in his brief major league career has displayed a propensity for outfield assists, reached the ball before Martin made it to third, but Orioles third base coach Jose Flores waved him on regardless. Laureano’s throw to the plate beat Martin easily, though Martin dodged the initial tag attempt before Phegley chased him down for the inning’s first out.
During Trey Mancini’s subsequent at-bat, Villar and Rickard attempted a double steal, with Rickard caught at second as the Orioles made another out on the bases. The inning ended scoreless when Laureano caught Mancini’s deep fly ball on the warning track, a shot that easily would’ve scored Martin from third had he been held there.
“Those things happen,” Hyde said. “Obviously, it’s one that Flo would like to have back.”
The Orioles’ bats remained dormant against Oakland left-hander Brett Anderson before Laureano couldn’t corral Pedro Severino’s two-out, two-run double in seventh.
The previous half inning, Profar walloped a solo shot off left-hander Richard Bleier. Bleier gave way to Miguel Castro with the bases loaded in the eighth, and within three pitches, all three runners had come home, with two on a single by Profar. Semien added a sacrifice fly as both Oakland middle infielders produced four-RBI performances, with Profar adding another in a ninth inning in which Castro allowed three runs while balking twice, showing some of the Orioles’ problems were indeed self-induced.
Chris Davis, hitless in his past 49 at-bats, did not play, though some fans began chanting “We want Davis” in the ninth.