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Notes: Means hones curveball; Crush goes deep

Wojciechowski, Zimmermann to debut Wednesday; O's confident Díaz will pitch first game soon
@JoeTrezz
February 25, 2020

SARASOTA, Fla. -- You can play the “year ago” game with John Means all spring, and certainly some will. A year ago, Means didn’t enjoy the role, status or name recognition he does now. A year ago, Means barely had a roster spot. He also really didn’t have a curveball.

SARASOTA, Fla. -- You can play the “year ago” game with John Means all spring, and certainly some will. A year ago, Means didn’t enjoy the role, status or name recognition he does now. A year ago, Means barely had a roster spot. He also really didn’t have a curveball.

And out of all the other differences between now and then, that curveball might be the key to the only real questions anyone has for Means this time around: What’s next? How do you follow up a year when you went from afterthought to All-Star? He’s been answering those for months, always the same way: Get better.

“I gave up a home run every game there for a stretch last summer,” Means said. “I need to be more consistent, attack hitters, and hopefully that comes with more time in the game.”

Enter the curve, which Means featured early and often across 1 1/3 innings in Tuesday’s 15-2 split-squad loss to the Rays, his spring debut. It was a pitch Means didn’t throw until September last season; previously, he relied only on his fastball, changeup and slider. He began tinkering with new grips midway through the summer, after trouble putting hitters away led to a string of short outings. What he came up with was a hybrid pitch, which Means dubbed a “slurve” at the time. Now it’s a curve, after an offseason spent refining it further.

“It’s something I’d like to work on, since I had the slider a lot last year and the curve really wasn’t there,” Means said. “It’s about getting it more consistent. That was my offseason project.”

The goal? To get more swing-and-misses and eliminate foul balls, which haunted Means in 2019. Means’ putaway rate, which measures the percentage of two-strike pitches producing a strikeout, ranked 125th of 130 qualified starters last season.

Means wants to take the next step, and he knows another weapon would help. This year, Means has the bandwidth to work on one.

“This year, I am trying to ease further into things, feel pitches out,” Means said. “Whereas last year, I was trying to make a statement.”

Crush SZN?
The good signs keep coming for Chris Davis, who reported to camp 25 pounds stronger, and through two Grapefruit League games, he is hitting 1.000. Davis had a hit and walked twice in his spring debut earlier this week, and he homered and walked Tuesday to keep his spring stat line pristine.

Davis sliced an 0-2 Trevor Richards pitch the other way for his first dinger, lofting it over the left-field wall on a windy afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium.

Pitching plans
The minor blister issue that’s kept Asher Wojciechowski from his Grapefruit League debut won’t sideline the righty for long. After originally slating Wojciechowski for a simulated game on Wednesday, the Orioles reversed course and scheduled him to start as originally planned against the Braves. Left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, who had been tabbed as Wojciechowski’s replacement, will now follow him against Atlanta. It will be the first spring outing for both pitchers.

Acquired from Atlanta in the July 2018 deal for Kevin Gausman and others, Zimmermann opened eyes last season with an impressive season at Double-A Bowie, going 5-3 with a 2.58 ERA. He struggled after a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk and figures to return there this season, profiling as rotation depth late this summer.

"[Zimmermann has] shown really good stuff, and I’m looking forward to watching him pitch tomorrow,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Looking forward to seeing what it looks like in a game situation against a different jersey.”

Hyde is far more familiar with Wojciechowski, who went 4-8 with a 4.92 ERA in Baltimore last season. The 31-year-old is vying to solidify a mid-rotation job this spring.

From the trainer's room
Sidelined due to a sore left shoulder, Yusniel Díaz said he hopes to make his spring debut by this weekend. The Orioles remain confident the issue won’t linger for Díaz, who has often battled lower-half injuries in the past.

Meanwhile …
Down in Fort Meyers, left-handed prospect Zac Lowther didn’t fare well in his spring debut, allowing four runs over 1 1/3 innings in the Orioles’ 12-4 split-squad loss to the Red Sox. Dillon Tate (1 IP, 3 ER vs. T.B.) was another prospect to struggle in his spring debut Tuesday.

Up next
Wojciechowski and Zimmermann will oppose Braves southpaw Sean Newcomb when the two teams match up Wednesday at Ed Smith Stadium at 1:05 pm ET, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Shawn Armstrong and Richard Bleier are among the other Orioles hurlers who appear in line to pitch in the game.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.