Lyles learning from Means -- and vice versa

March 27th, 2022

SARASOTA, Fla. -- With his Orioles debut in his back pocket -- three tough-pitched innings in the club's 5-4 win against the Tigers on Sunday afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium -- Jordan Lyles was asked about John Means, the 11th-round Draft pick he pitched behind with fewer than 100 appearances.

“I got a lot to learn from him,” said Lyles, a first-round Draft pick in 2008 with almost 300 appearances and over 1,100 innings who is embarking on his 12th season and seventh team.

That’s the type of respect Means has commanded in his short yet fruitful Major League career, an All-Star nod and no-hitter on his resume. And the feeling is mutual.

“I'm looking forward to having talks with him [about] how he does throw so many innings every year. He does such a great job of it,” Means said. “That's something that I really want to work on.”

Now, the O’s hope each veteran arm can learn from one another and provide steadiness heading into a season of uncertainty, with innings at a premium and health coming with a heavy question mark.

Means pitched three battle-tested innings against the Tigers, yielding just one run on four hits to go with no walks and four strikeouts in 50-plus pitches. Lyles mirrored Means’ line, but he issued one walk. The latter prioritized his work on the back field at the outset of spring, but he was pushed back from Friday to make his Grapefruit League debut against Detroit due to the stomach bug that has made its way around Orioles pitchers.

Both healthy and building up to Opening Day, they intend to lead an O’s staff in need of both innings and leadership due to both the looming uncertainty of health and the dearth of experienced arms in the clubhouse.

Means led all Baltimore pitchers last season with 146 2/3 innings around a left shoulder strain. Lyles bested him with 180 for the Rangers, a mark good enough for sixth in the American League.

“He's been here a lot longer than I have,” Means said, “but it's kind of his thing.”

It’s important for the Orioles to get as much as they can from Lyles and Means in 2022, because, as it stands, they’ll front-load a rotation that has other uncertainties.

Among those competing for the final three spots are Dean Kremer, who will get the ball against the Phillies on Monday, Tyler Wells, Bruce Zimmermann, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells, Keegan Akin, Kyle Bradish (ranked the club’s No. 10 prospect by MLB Pipeline) and Mike Baumann (No. 13), among others.

Hyde has admitted he has more question marks than answers at the moment. Means and Lyles hope to try to remedy some concerns, with durability, length and leadership chief among their focuses entering an uncertain start to the year.

They can start formulating that plan at their lockers, which are right next to each other in the O’s clubhouse.

“We've been good to know one another, and that dialogue will ramp up and stay pretty strong throughout the season,” Lyles said. “He's already picked my brain about a couple things here and there, but I like how he pitches. I've always admired him the last couple years from the other side, from the other dugout, but I'm looking forward to that relationship growing.”

While the Orioles have left open the option for creativity this season -- piggybacking starters and atypical long-relief options among the conversation -- it’d be surprising for Means and Lyles to pitch in tandem again this season.

But take this: the club is undefeated when they pitch together.

“I think every time those guys have the ball, we're going to have a chance to win the game and know they're going to go deep in the game,” said catcher Robinson Chirinos, who caught Lyles during their time with Texas in 2020. “I don't know how they're going to [be] the first month, but I know every time those guys have the ball, we’re going to have a chance to win the game.”