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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles observations on John Means’ first spring outing, Tyler Nevin at third base and power from prospects | ANALYSIS

BRADENTON, Fla. — John Means figures his career spring training ERA is at least 10. As he often has been in his time as the Orioles’ top starter, he was harder on himself than he needed to be.

Expected to take the ball when Baltimore begins the regular season April 8 against the Tampa Bay Rays, Means made his first appearance this spring Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, working into the third inning of the Orioles’ 10-9 victory. Although his final line was not impressive — seven outs, five hits, four runs, three of them earned to leave his Grapefruit League ERA at 6.43 — Means didn’t care. Spring training stats, as he’s shown throughout his major league career, don’t matter.

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“It’s never gone well, so it’s just par for the course,” Means said afterward. “But like I said, I’m working on some stuff. Maybe I would have approached it a little bit different if it was a real start but felt good body wise. That’s all that matters.”

Means showed the Orioles enough in spring 2019 to make the roster as a length option in their bullpen, pitching his way in the rotation, All-Star Game and a runner-up finish in Rookie of the Year voting. He was among the best starters in baseball through the first couple of months of 2021, pitching a dominant no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners before a shoulder injury disrupted his season.

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When he returned, his signature changeup was inconsistent, forcing him to rely more on his curveball. In Tuesday’s start, he mostly worked on his fastball-changeup combo, using them for 22 of his 24 pitches through two scoreless innings, getting three whiffs with his offspeed. But as he tried to work his curveball in more in his third frame, the Pirates began to hit him, with well-struck groundballs finding holes. Means’ final four pitches were his first sliders of the outing, with the last a 1-2 offering that stayed in the zone for Yoshi Tsutsugo to ground into left.

“Trying to work them in, trying to get strike-to-ball and couldn’t really get it there,” Means said. “Kind of stayed flat, but first game.”

Added Orioles manager Brandon Hyde: “I don’t think he was happy with his curveball today, but it’s his first time out facing another uniform in a long time. I’m just glad he got up three times. I thought he had two good innings. I thought his changeup was good at times. His fastball, he was commanding it fairly well. Just his curveball, he was disappointed in that, but thought he threw the ball well.”

Means threw 44 pitches, a typical three-inning workload, and likely has only two more Grapefruit League outings before Opening Day. Hyde has called getting pitchers to five innings by then a “best-case scenario” with the league’s 99-day lockout prompting a shortened spring training. Means, though, believes he’ll be ready to face the Rays.

“Little crazy,” Means said. “It’s just been a weird spring. But obviously, we’re looking forward to it. We’re all really ready to get going.”

Nevin gets look at third

Kelvin Gutiérrez was the Orioles’ starting third baseman for 27 of their final 28 games last season and entered camp as their presumptive starter there. But Tuesday, he moved across the infield for Baltimore to explore another option.

The Colorado Rockies drafted Tyler Nevin in 2015′s first round as a third baseman, but he’s spent most of his professional career at first. Traded to Baltimore in 2020 as part of a three-player package for reliever Mychal Givens, Nevin, 24, made his major league debut last year, playing first base and left field. He swung the bat well in those limited stints, leaving an impression on Hyde.

“I think that Tyler’s got a chance to hit,” Hyde said. “I’d just like to move him around a little bit to see if he can play different places.

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“A positive is he wants to do it. I think that he’s trying to stick in the big leagues. We don’t have established guys all over the field, and so if he has a chance to play other spots, I think that that’s just beneficial for him.”

Hyde acknowledged that he’s not yet sure who the Orioles’ starting second baseman, shortstop and third baseman will be, with Ramón Urías, Jorge Mateo and Chris Owings also among options at the hot corner.

Nevin enjoyed playing the position down the stretch of 2021 with Triple-A Norfolk, and as oft seems to happen, the ball found him quickly. The first two batters of Means’ outing hit grounders to Nevin; he threw across to Gutiérrez at first without issue.

Prospect power

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The Orioles have hit four home runs this spring. Three have come by players yet to reach the majors.

After Yusniel Diaz hit a laser to center field on Sunday, Rylan Bannon hammered a drive to right-center field in Sunday’s seventh inning; both players were acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the July 2018 for star infielder Manny Machado.

In the second inning, Kyle Stowers, Baltimore’s No. 7 prospect according to Baseball America, swung and missed at two curveballs from Pittsburgh starter José Quintana, a 10-year major leaguer. But when Quintana threw a third straight breaking ball, Stowers sent it out to right field, showing off the power he consistently displayed at three minor league affiliates in 2021.

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Baltimore also showed off one of its farm system’s power arms. Right-hander Félix Bautista, an imposing presence listed at 6-foot-5, sat 96-97 mph with his fastball in the eighth inning but froze the first two batters he faced with two-strike curveballs before inducing an easy flyball. Added to Baltimore’s 40-man roster this offseason, Bautista has four strikeouts in two scoreless innings this spring.

Spring training

ORIOLES@YANKEES

Wednesday, 6:35 p.m.


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