PHILADELPHIA -- Down the stretch in 2020, John Means finished the year pitching the best baseball of his career, a dominant run that carried over to the early months of 2021. He may be on the cusp of completing ‘21 in similar fashion.
The Orioles’ ace had everything working Monday night, excelling on the mound and at the plate against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Behind Means’ most dominant performance since his May 5 no-hitter in Seattle, the Orioles played spoiler in a 2-0 victory which snapped their eight-game losing streak with their ace on the mound dating back to the beginning of August. Baltimore’s fourth shutout also marked its first since July 18.
“This felt more like me,” Means said. “The changeup was good today, finally … this felt like more my style of pitching.”
Holding Philadelphia to four hits in 6 2/3 shutout innings, Means fanned six and retired 14 of 15 at one point against a Phillies team fighting for position in the National League East and Wild Card races. An Orioles lineup absent Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini jumped ahead immediately, scoring two first-inning runs off Ranger Suárez. Means then handled much of the rest, letting only one baserunner past second base while working almost three full times through the Phillies’ lineup.
“This was our best starter giving a great effort. He just pitched an outstanding ballgame,” O’s manager Brandon Hyde said. “Meansy had the changeup tonight. That was the difference.”
Cole Sulser and Tyler Wells contributed seven key outs in relief to lock down Means’ first win since July 31; it also marked Means’ first scoreless start since May 11 -- the start after he no-hit the Mariners at T-Mobile Park. That was in many ways the nadir of what’s been a disjointed season for Means, who landed on the injured list a month later, missed six weeks and had pitched to an ERA in the high-4s since.
Then came Monday, when Means also provided the offensive highlight of the night. Making his eighth career plate appearance in the seventh, Means socked a 98 mph Sam Coonrod fastball to the center-field wall for a one-out double, his first career extra-base hit and the first by an Orioles pitcher since Zack Britton (home run) on July 3, 2011 -- more than a decade ago.
“If that is my last at bat, I’m happy with it,” Means said. “I was like, ‘All right, if this is a fastball, I’m hitting it. If it’s a curveball, I am gonna look like an idiot.' But I sold out, and it worked.”
This past weekend in Boston, the Orioles let their pitchers take batting practice in preparation for their upcoming Interleague trip to Philadelphia. This is a big deal for Means, who loves hitting and owned the Orioles pitchers’ last hit, a single from 2019. One wrinkle: their everyday batters were preparing to face Red Sox lefty Chris Sale and his unique arm angle.
“So we had the machine way off the mound to the left -- it was throwing about 96 mph from an angle behind (the batter),” Hyde said Monday afternoon. “I think (Means) made contact on maybe 40 percent of the balls, and 92 percent went to the top of the cage. That might have hurt his confidence a little. But he does think he’s a really good hitter. So we’ll see tonight. However, I’d love to see him bunt every single time.”
Means did bunt once -- into a forceout in the second. He also struck out in the fourth and twice found himself on the bases, running into an out trying to advance on a wild pitch in the seventh.
“He’s proud of his pop-up slide,” Hyde said. “I wanted to see a homer, where he can jog, or a punchout. Instead he hits a double, which we’re going to hear about for the next 13 days and probably next year at Spring Training.”
From the trainer’s room
The Orioles are going with a bullpen game Tuesday and pushing right-hander Chris Ellis back due to arm fatigue, Hyde confirmed. Hyde said Ellis would be pushed back “a couple of days,” though his exact timetable remains unclear.
Claimed off waivers from the Rays in August, the 28-year-old Ellis has been a bright spot down the stretch, pitching to a 2.82 ERA in five starts. Most recently, Ellis tossed 4 2/3 innings of two-run ball Sept. 16 against the Yankees. The Orioles are yet to announce Tuesday’s starter but have swingman Thomas Eshelman among several multi-inning options in their current bullpen.