SARASOTA, Fla. -- Only in Spring Training can a starting pitcher, pulled in the first inning due to pitch-count concerns, stroll back to the mound to pitch the second. That was exactly what John Means did in his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday, proving re-entry is a thing these days in the Orioles’ 4-2 loss to the Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium.
Throwing roughly 40 pitches and recording five total outs, Means allowed one run on four hits in his spring debut. He was removed with two outs and runners on first and second in the first inning after throwing 29 pitches, then enjoyed a smoother, scoreless second inning.
No, he didn’t know it was allowed, either.
“When I saw [manager Brandon Hyde] coming out, I was a little confused,” Means said afterwards. “I knew I had two innings and I had no idea that was a rule -- that I could go back out. Once he came to the mound, he was like, 'You’re going back out next inning.' I was a little confused, but you know, it’s the way of the times.”
Chalk it up to the kind of weirdness only possible at Spring Training, where the unorthodox is becoming more common as teams look to get their work in while adhering to new safety measures. Across the Grapefruit League, teams are choosing to play seven-inning games instead of nine innings and doing so with slimmed-down rosters, only letting designated players in the dugout during games. Gone are the days of jamming 60-plus uniforms into a spring dugout, with safety protocols in mind due to the pandemic.
Managers can now re-enter pitchers at their will, too.
“That’s a new rule this year,” Hyde said. “We have a couple backup pitchers every game in case a situation like that occurs. I can either roll the inning … or have him go back out.”
For Means, the juggling overshadowed what was a middling spring debut against a lineup stocked with Yankees regulars, many of whom gave the O’s lefty fits at times in 2020. Means allowed six earned runs in 8 1/3 innings across two starts against New York last season, with five of the runs coming in 2 1/3 innings in his season debut. Means held the Yankees to one run over six innings on Sept. 13, part of a dominant four-start stretch to finish the season.
More outings like that could go a long way toward Means taking the steps forward he anticipates in 2021, as he hopes to reclaim more of his 2019 All-Star form. All told, Means went 2-4 with a 4.53 ERA in 10 starts in '20, pitching around sporadic arm trouble while mourning the death of his father. The Orioles are 5-24 against the Yankees over the past two seasons.
“It’s Spring Training for everybody, and these are some guys I’m going to have to get out during the season, so when I saw the lineup, I was kind of happy with that,” Means said. “I want some tough at-bats, to get as many of them as you can in spring. It’s a great team, and we’re going to have to get used to it.”