PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - John Means will take the box score today with his final line and admire it for the three scoreless innings and five strikeouts. The surface beauty of it.
But he won’t be fooled by it.
Means was a harsh critic while standing outside the visiting clubhouse, though the results did nothing to hurt his chances of making the club. He allowed only one hit, a bloop single for Kean Wong in the third that eluded retreating shortstop Richie Martin, and walked two batters.
The fastball was down a tick from his last start, when he shut out the Yankees through the second inning and didn’t permit a hit. The 90-92 mph readings on the ballpark gun didn’t impact his effectiveness.
“I think I probably felt a little better last outing, actually,” he said. “This outing is one of those where you see the box score, you see the strikeouts and you think it’s a good outing. I just didn’t really have as much feel for my curveball. I couldn’t really dump that in for a strike, but I still felt good, I still feel strong.”
With a spot open in the rotation and the possibility of a second, the Orioles figure to give Means more looks and keep him under consideration. He’s pleased to have so many opportunities in his first major league camp. He isn’t just a warm body waiting for his reassignment.
“Yeah, of course, especially with this new staff,” he said. “Everybody’s come in here trying to leave a good first impression and that was my goal coming into camp was to come in strong and I feel like I’ve succeeded with that.”
Means struck out Guillermo Heredia on a changeup with the count full in the second inning after issuing a leadoff walk to Willy Adames, who was erased by Chance Sisco on a stolen base attempt. He fanned three in the first, the smudge a one-out walk to Tommy Pham.
The left-hander got a called third strike on Pham to end the third on his 48th pitch of the afternoon. Twenty-nine of them were strikes.
The climb from a sloppy debut has been steady and at times spectacular. Means entered a Feb. 26 game against the Rays in the eighth and was charged with three runs in one-third of an inning. He took Nate Karns’ turn Friday and earned another start today.
Karns could transition to the bullpen if he isn’t properly stretched out as opening day approaches, which would leave two openings in the rotation.
“I try not to think about it,” he said. “Spring training is used to kind of get warmed up for the season and basically that’s how I’m taking it. Just getting warmed up, getting the innings, getting the stamina up and that’s really all that I’m thinking about. I’m not trying to think about it too much.”
The mind understandably could race for a young pitcher, now entering the starter discussion, who hadn’t been in a major league camp until this spring. He’s one of the newbies.
“It’s pretty great, honestly,” he said. “I was thinking the other night, taking a look back at the last four years I’ve been with this organization, been in minor league camp, always looked up to these guys in camp and always wanted to be one of them. And now that I’m here I’m trying to take as many opportunities as I possibly can.”
Luis Ortiz won’t crack the rotation on opening day, his struggles continuing this afternoon with two more runs allowed in the fifth.
The Rays loaded the bases with no outs on a single, double and walk, and sacrifice flies by Adames and Heredia gave them a 5-3 lead.
Ortiz has allowed eight runs and 10 hits in five innings this spring.
The Orioles tied the game in the top of the fifth on Anthony Santander’s leadoff home run and Cedric Mullins’ two-run shot that followed Martin’s infield hit. Santander crushed an 0-2 fastball from Yonny Chirinos.
Rays starter Charlie Morton retired Mullins in the first inning and hit Trey Mancini and Sisco. Mancini had just returned to the lineup after jamming his left pinky finger and appeared to be struck in the leg/hip region. Sisco, nailed closer to the foot/ankle area, glared at Morton before heading to first base.
(No replays here so I can’t be more precise.)
Rio Ruiz has doubled and singled. Martin tripled to lead off the third and was stranded, and his single made him 9-for-19 this spring.
The Rays scored three runs in the fourth, all charged to Bo Schultz. They loaded the bases with no outs on three singles, including a ball that right fielder Yusniel Diaz appeared to lose in the sun. Schultz hit Heredia to force in a run, Omar Bencomo walked Michael Pérez to force in another and Wong gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead with a fielder’s choice grounder.
Update: The Orioles scored four runs in the eighth to take a 7-5 lead. Diaz had a three-run double and he scored on Jack Reinheimer’s single.
Final Update: Mike Yastrzemski hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth. Right-hander Pedro Araujo gave up one run in the bottom of the ninth off a throwing error from Martin Cervenka. Orioles win 9-6.