Means' rise adds new chapter with OD nod

July 11th, 2020

In one summer, transformed from an unknown into an All-Star and the runner-up for the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award. Now, he can officially tout another resume point: Opening Day starter.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde on Friday named Means the club’s starter for the opener, tabbing the southpaw for the July 24 contest in Boston -- the same place he made his big league debut in 2018. It is the first such assignment for Means, who went 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA across 31 games (27 starts) last season.

“Sometimes, I sit back and pinch myself a little bit that this is real, this is happening,” Means said. “I am the Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles. If you would’ve told me that two years ago, I would’ve laughed in your face.”

Nobody is kidding now about a reality that’s existed for some time. The Orioles were lining up Means to get the original opener nod in mid-March, and they were just days away from announcing the assignment when Spring Training was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Means returned home to Kansas for the layoff and stayed in shape by throwing to his younger brother, Jake, a Minor Leaguer in the Royals' system.

Means arrived at camp built up to five innings and 75 pitches, then completed five innings in his intrasquad debut Thursday. Hyde informed him of his new assignment that day, for the second time in a span of four months.  

 “Until I got told I’m Opening Day starter, I assumed I was fighting for a job,” Means said. “I like that mentality. I like to keep that back-against-the-wall mentality and never get comfortable. Until it’s confirmed and in writing, I am going to assume I’m fighting for the job.”

Said Hyde: “The year he had last year, such an impressive thing for a guy to do what he did. It was a great story, coming out of Spring Training barely making the club, having some impressive relief appearances. And then next thing you know, he’s in our rotation, making an All-Star Game and really finishing the season strong, too. He’s definitely earned it.”

Back on the Oriole Park mound this week, Hyde said Means was sitting 93-94 mph with his fastball during the intrasquad contest with “a couple nice breaking balls” and a “really good” changeup. Means has worked to develop a curveball since the end of last season; his heater averaged 91.7 mph in 2019, per Statcast. He will also start the Orioles’ July 19 exhibition against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park in what will be his final tune-up for the regular season.

“As we get closer to that day, it’s going to feel really special,” Hyde said. “It’s always a good feeling to tell somebody good news.”

Means is being followed in the rotation by , , and likely , though and are also candidates for that fifth spot. The Orioles are stretching out nine pitchers as starters this summer, with Means the obvious staff ace. He admitted it’ll be “so weird” opening the season without fans in the stands, though predicted that wouldn’t take away the feeling “of it being a real Opening Day.”

Means also revealed Saturday one of his baseball heroes growing up was Jamie Moyer, who famously pitched until the age of 49. He hopes this storybook journey of his is just beginning.

“My motivation is to keep playing a child’s game for as long as I possibly can,” Means said. “The last thing I want is to get a real job. Who wouldn’t want to do this for a living? Who wouldn’t want to do this for as long as they possibly can?”