Baltimore Orioles: John Means is back at the most perfect time

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher John Means is starting to look like himself again.

Don’t look now (seriously, if you’re a fan of the New York Yankees, don’t look), but it’s September 9th and the Baltimore Orioles are only a half-game out of a playoff spot.

An influx of youthful talent and a recent scorching hot stretch from Orioles starting pitching has put this team into playoff contention with less than three weeks to go in the 2020 MLB regular season.

But whether or not the Baltimore Orioles end the year as a playoff time, the latest outing from starting pitcher John Means is another highly positive storyline for the O’s this season.

Means largely came out of nowhere last season, going from just another minor league pitcher to an American League All-Star in 2019 and runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting thanks to a 12-11 record and 3.60 ERA campaign.

He was supposed to take the ball on Opening Day for the Baltimore Orioles, but arm fatigue landed him on the Injured List to begin 2020. He would finally take the mound for his first start on July 30th against the New York Yankees, a rough outing that saw him give up five earned runs in just 2.1 innings of work.

But, Orioles fans saw a much different looking John Means on the mound. The fastball for Means averaged 95.2 mph and touched 96.5 mph on the radar gun, velocity numbers no one had seen before from the second-year lefty.

Unfortunately, he was unable to locate the pitch and his highly-touted changeup was fairly ineffective, producing zero whiffs in his first start. In 2019, Means averaged just 91.7 mph on his fastball and produced a 25% whiff rate with his changeup, one of the highest-rated changeups in baseball last year.

He would go on to make one more start before tragedy struck. John Means didn’t pitch for the next two weeks after the death of his father from pancreatic cancer.

Navigating your way back to full strength in a shortened season where you may only get 10 or so starts is one thing, but to do so while experiencing a loss like his father is devastating. No one, at least I hope no one, would have faulted Means for packing this up for the season to focus on his family and a restart in 2021.

John Means finally turns it around for the Baltimore Orioles.

After returning from the Bereavement List, the next four starts from Means were rocky, expectedly so. He gave up 12 runs in 13 innings while striking out just six batters. The fastball velocity was still there, but Means was getting hit hard and struggled to locate his pitches.

That all greatly improved in his last outing, a Tuesday night start against the New York Mets.

Means went a season-high six innings, allowing one run on three hits with one walk and five strikeouts.

The fastball velocity took a step back, averaging 93 mph, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Means dotted his corners and produced a total of 15 swings and misses (28%) on the night, including a season-high six with his changeup. Yes, the changeup is also back.

The increased velocity on his fastball was a nice “wow” moment to start the season, but unless he can command the pitch, the added velo doesn’t really do much, as evidenced by his first handful of starts this season.

A recent conversation with his manager, Brandon Hyde, may have done the trick. Here’s what Means had to say after Tuesday night’s game, per MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko’s post-game article,

“I was trying to force a lot of things, trying to get strikeouts and blow it by everybody and it’s just not how I pitch. That’s not me. Hyde actually called me in the office this past week and gave me a tough talk and told me this isn’t me, this isn’t how I pitch, this isn’t how I should be.”

Is John Means back? The Baltimore Orioles sure hope so.

With 19 games to go and a playoff spot within reach, Orioles starting pitchers have been rolling. Since September 4th, Orioles starters are 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and a .148 average against.

Next: The long journey of Cesar Valdez

The Baltimore Orioles have 19 games left on their schedule, including matchups against the Yankees, Braves, Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. It won’t be easy, but if this starting rotation can continue to excel, anything is possible. After all, it is 2020.

 

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