John Means was supposed to be the Orioles’ Opening Day starter last season. But like so much else in 2020, things didn’t go as planned.
The season was put on hold because of the pandemic on March 12th and players had to rush to get ready when they regathered for summer training. By the time the July 24th opener came against Boston at Fenway Park, Means had to sit it out because of arm fatigue.
This year, the Orioles will open again against Boston at Fenway Park on April 1st, and Means again has been tabbed the Opening Day starter.
“Both years being named the Opening Day starter feels like such a blessing,” Means said. “So humbling. I take every day as it comes. It’s such a cool experience that I will, hopefully, make this time around.
“It’s unbelievable. If you had told me this three years ago, I would have told you you’re crazy, and now that it’s set in, it’s become more real, and I look forward to it.”
Means, 27, is the Orioles’ No. 1 starter but he hasn’t pitched that many major league games. In 42 games, five in relief, Means is 14-15 with a 3.97 ERA. He says he has a lot to learn.
“Just be more consistent,” Means said. “Consistency every five days, being the same pitcher over and over that I know I can be. That’s the name of the game. That’s part of growing up in this game, becoming an older guy in the clubhouse, like I am in this clubhouse, you’ve just got to be more consistent, and that’s going to be the goal this year.”
In Means’ first two seasons, he had veteran pitchers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb to lean on. Now, he is a veteran, especially to pitchers such as Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann, who made their major league debuts last season.
“I’m going to always be here for them if they have any questions,” Means said. “But with the guys that we have, I have a lot of confidence that they’re doing really well for themselves. There’s definitely going to be some times where I have to step in and guide them through the struggles because I’ve seen a lot these past couple of years.
“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I think that offers a lot to these young kids. I look forward to doing it.”
Means was never in anyone’s top prospect list. He was an 11th-round draft pick by the Orioles in 2014, watching David Hess (5th round), Tanner Scott (6th) and Stevie Wilkerson (8th) get picked ahead of him.
Another pitcher who was chosen ahead of him, Pat Connaughton (4th round), played briefly with Means at Short Season-A Aberdeen before embarking on a successful NBA career with the the Portland Trail Blazers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Means made his way through the Orioles’ farm system as what manager Brandon Hyde referred to as “an organizational player” — a pitcher who wasn’t a prospect but was a useful player on the Orioles’ minor league teams.
In his five minor league seasons, Means was 35-41 with a 3.83 ERA. The lack of attention motivated him.
“It definitely did,” Means said. “It was also kind of nice, to be honest. You’re not the face. You’re not getting interviewed from Low-A all the way to the big leagues like some of these high prospects do. I was able to stay in the shadows and develop, focus on myself and not have to worry about the outside noise.
“I think that really prepared me for this time now that I am in the spotlight to handle it.”
Means is a four-pitch pitcher with a fastball, change, slider and curveball.
“It’s been big, the best way the curveball got here on final yr,” Means mentioned. “It fully modified the sport, particularly in at the moment’s sport with how good all these hitters are. You’ll be able to’t simply have two pitches, like I did, principally in 2019.
“You’ve obtained to have the ability to combine it up, hold them on their toes. When you don’t have a breaking pitch, it’s going to be onerous to pitch on this league. Having that come alongside has been huge for me.”
Hyde needs Means to work on placing away hitters with two strikes.
“There’s loads of foul balls,” Means mentioned. “Truthfully, it comes right down to execution. I’m good at getting to 2 strikes, nevertheless it’s simply placing guys away. It’s one thing I assumed the final couple of video games of , I felt like I used to be doing nicely. It’s actually simply making an attempt to remain attacking.
“It’s that put-away pitch, that final pitch. You want that swing and miss that I’ve obtained to deal with, and simply restrict the foul balls. I feel many of the yr final yr, I used to be leaving loads of balls over the center of the plate, and that was a part of the rationale. With two strikes, not going proper down the center, however working the sides and simply executing.”
Means made his main league debut on September 26, 2018 at Fenway Park. That day, he allowed 5 runs on six hits in 3 1/3 innings in opposition to the Purple Sox.
“Fenway will at all times maintain a particular place in my coronary heart,” Means mentioned. “That was my debut. It was such a cool expertise then, though I didn’t do nicely … I really like pitching there each time we go, I actually do. It’s simply the park, the sphere, the ambiance. I do know we received’t have fairly the ambiance we’re used to. It’s nonetheless going to be a fairly cool expertise.”