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John Means back at his best in Orioles’ 5-2 win over Tigers

In discussing the Orioles’ trade deadline decisions Friday, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he never intended to get “very serious” in trade discussions regarding left-hander John Means.

A day later, Means showed why the Orioles value him so much. In a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers, he went six innings, with a solo home run accounting for all the damage against him. Means threw 99 pitches, his most since his May 5 no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners and his first time in five starts eclipsing 90.

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“That was my favorite part, getting close to 100 again, just being able to get to that point,” Means said. “Definitely still have some things to work on, but as far as the results go, I liked it and I liked my changeup tonight, so it’s pretty satisfying.”

Means had allowed nine earned runs over 11 ⅔ innings in his first two starts after spending six weeks on the injured list with a left shoulder strain, though he pitched into the seventh in the latter and was mostly done in by a three-run home run. Saturday, he looked back in the form he carried early in the year as the Orioles (37-66) improved to 9-5 in the second half, overcoming Eric Haase’s homer with one from third baseman Maikel Franco and a three-run burst in the sixth provided by a Detroit error.

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With his 10th start of at least six innings, Means gave the Orioles six such outings in their past 12 games after they had 16 through their first 91 contests. He did so throwing his signature changeup more than any other offering. He got seven swinging strikes with the pitch, his most since the no-hitter. He also stayed away from his slider and used his curveball as his primary breaking ball, upping its usage by about 10% from his average entering Saturday. He said that was largely because Detroit’s lineup was predominantly right-handed and he tends to throw the slider to lefties.

“I mixed in a few just to kind of get in on guys’ hands because I couldn’t really locate the fastball in very well,” Means said. “To have something hard coming in at them, I threw the slider, and that kind of saved me a couple times tonight.”

It was on a first-pitch elevated fastball that Haase took him deep to tie the game in the fourth. An inning earlier, Cedric Mullins singled, stole second and scored on Ryan Mountcastle’s bloop hit. Means settled in from there to lower his ERA to 2.84, but homers have done much of the damage against him this year, with 22 of the 28 runs he has allowed coming on long balls.

“John Means was outstanding,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Really good curveballs tonight. I liked his curveball. Thought he mixed pitches extremely well. Just that one fastball that Haase put a good swing on, on a fastball probably above the zone for the only run given up, but six extremely strong innings.

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“For me, John Means looked like he did in April. This was early-season form.”

Scott dealing with knee soreness

Behind Means, Paul Fry and Dillon Tate each pitched a scoreless inning before Hyde turned to left-hander Tanner Scott, looking for a bounceback outing. Scott faced four Tigers on Friday and retired none of them, but all he got out of Saturday’s appearance was an extension of that streak, hitting the first batter before issuing two walks. In the series, Scott’s ERA has risen from 3.07 to 3.95.

Hyde said Scott’s timing is off, with the issue possibly stemming from some knee soreness. He did not know whether it would require an injured list stint.

“He’s not getting the chases on the slider, fastball’s erratic the last couple nights,” Hyde said. “But somebody that we believe in a lot, and he’s got a great arm. Pitchers go through this, and we expect him to come out of it and be the dominating guy he is.”

Hyde tasked Cole Sulser with getting the final three outs for the second straight night, and he delivered them, recording a run-scoring groundout and two strikeouts.

Maik-ing it happen

Franco entered the season as a trade candidate, largely because he was on a one-year deal with a team that was expected to be a seller at the deadline. But between health and performance, he didn’t generate enough interest to be moved to a contender.

But perhaps Saturday could represent the start of a productive final stretch with Baltimore. He sent a fastball up out of the zone from Tigers rookie Matt Manning out to left to break a tie in the fifth. He admitted he’s not playing at 100%, having missed the first three weeks of July with a right ankle sprain, but “it’s going to get better every single day.”

“It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish,” Franco said. “I just try to compete every single day and try to be tough, try to get better, and try to just not think about what happened in the beginning and just try to finish strong.”

When he came up again with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth, Franco and the Orioles caught a break. Tigers shortstop Zack Short fielded Franco’s grounder, but second baseman Willi Castro couldn’t cleanly catch his throw for the force at second, allowing Mountcastle to score from third. Pat Valaika followed with a two-run single.

“That was a huge play,” Hyde said. “We cashed in on a mistake, which is what good teams do.”

Around the horn

  • The Orioles will likely activate left-handed pitcher Keegan Akin from the COVID-19 injured list and add him to the bullpen Sunday, Hyde said. The team will need to open spots on both its active and 40-man rosters.
  • Right-handed reliever Hunter Harvey (right lat strain) is going through his throwing progression in hopes of being activated in mid-August.
  • Left-handed starter Bruce Zimmermann (left bicep tendinitis) threw 55 pitches in a three-inning rehab start with High-A Aberdeen, striking out out four and allowing one earned run.

ORIOLES@TIGERS

Sunday, 1:10 p.m.

TV: MASN2 Radio: 105.7 FM

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