Stowers on trying to make club, Means on rehab, Mullins on WBC

The blonde hair was much shorter, but Kyle Stowers kept his same enthusiasm for being a major league player. The excitement about debuting in August, the smiles as fans lined up to get a photo with him in Salisbury.

He greeted one group as if they were friends from high school.

Stowers isn’t assuming that he’s on the Orioles’ roster for opening day. The chances are good, but to relax about it is risking a rude wakeup call.

“I want to be there,” Stowers said, “and I want to help the team win in every way I can.”

Stowers played in 34 games, the first two in Toronto during a June series after Anthony Santander went on the restricted list due to his vaccination status. The real call-up came in August, with the Orioles still in the thick of the wild card race.

Among the highlights, and it blew away the others, was his two-out, two-strike, game-tying home run off All-Star closer Liam Hendricks in the ninth inning. Stowers was hitless in his last 13 at-bats with 11 strikeouts, and he became the first Oriole whose initial major league home run tied a game in the ninth or later since Rich Coggins in 1973.

A primary takeaway from that season was, in Stowers’ words, “figuring out what your role is and how you can help contribute to the team. That’s kind of my goal moving forward.

“I was in a new role. I didn’t start all the games I played in, which was different than coming up in the minor leagues, so I learned how to just be ready for whatever was called for me to do.

“I think there’s value in being someone that can, whether it’s being a spark plug in a pinch-hit at-bat or be ready to go when your name is called. That’s something that was new for me, and obviously I want to be in there as much as I can and help the team as much as I can, but that was something that was new to me.”

The Orioles are deep in outfielders, including Adam Frazier and Terrin Vavra, who can stand on a corner if they aren’t playing second base. The non-roster invites include Franchy Cordero, Ryan O’Hearn and Nomar Mazara – all of them left-handed hitters like Stowers, who slashed .253/.306/.418 in 98 plate appearances. None of the offseason maneuvering broke up the trio of Santander, Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins.

More reasons why Stowers can’t take his roster spot for granted.

“Obviously, I’m not the one who makes those decisions,” he said. “All I can control is how I play and how hard I play, and the effort I put toward. I just know that if do that, I’m happy with how the dice fall, and that’s just kind of the way I go about my business. Just take care of everything I can control.”

Two bar areas and a narrow dining room at Evolution Craft Brewing Company were packed Friday afternoon, and it wasn’t just for the food and beer. The excitement over the Orioles is boiling over.

Stowers, teammates Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan McKenna, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde were introduced to the crowd as they walked down spiraling metal stairs. The roar sounded more like a rock concert as the spotlight hits the main act.

“I think the team has a lot of momentum going, so hopefully we can build off what we started last year,” Stowers said after the last photos were snapped in front of an Orioles backdrop.

“Obviously, we want to win, and it’s just so awesome to see how invested all the fans are.”

* The caravan made its final stop yesterday afternoon at Crooked Crab Brewing Company in Odenton, where John Means tended bar, posed for photos and expressed his enthusiasm over his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

Means said he’s throwing from 140 feet with a crow hop, no breaking balls or off-speed stuff, and will move to a half mound on the first Monday of spring training. His goal is to pitch again for the Orioles by the middle of the season.

“Right now I’m right on track,” he said.

“They always say it’s more of a mental grind than a physical grind and that’s definitely true. It’s let me step back a little bit, take care of the mental part, and also take care of my body, taking care of some of the things I need to work on. It’s honestly been really helpful, and I feel really good.”

The time off has allowed Means to study himself. He’s doing more than just healing from elbow surgery.

“I tinkered around a lot with my mechanics over the years and I obviously pushed the wall a little bit sometimes, but in 2020 I was throwing harder, and then I kind of slowed it down in 2021," Means said. "So, I kind of want to do a little bit in between both of those, using all of my body, using the momentum, but also having control and being in control of my body. Just kind of toying around. It’s been fun exploring. I feel really good about it.”

Means has gone on the injured list in past seasons due to shoulder soreness and arm fatigue, which caused him to miss his opening day start in 2020. He’s been working on his posture and said the shoulder is “feeling great.”

“I feel the best I’ve ever felt,” he said.

The rotation will make room for Means when he’s ready. Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin are the only certainties, with Grayson Rodriguez more of an assumption. DL Hall will get every chance to join them. Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells will try to hold onto their spots.

“I think it looks great, I think it can be really good,” Means said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a fun team.”

The combinations can change on a team that keeps creating a loud buzz among its fan base and within the industry. The Odenton brewery also was packed yesterday and a long line formed outside the front door. Means said he’s never seen an offseason like it.

“Baltimore has such great fans,” he said. “I’m glad we’re finally getting them out to support and cheer us on.”

The atmosphere further fuels his desire to get back in uniform and join the push for the playoffs. The expectation is that he's going to join a contender.

“I can’t wait," he said. "This team is so good, and the vibe is so good. I just can’t wait to get back and try to do my part.”

With the proper pacing that gets him onto the active roster. Resisting any and all temptations to rush. 

“I feel really good, I’m throwing hard, but I still can’t throw any breaking balls. I’m only throwing fastballs," he said.

"Every week’s a new week and it is a slow process, but there’s something new every week. I just kind of take it day by day.”

Means had to figure out his life without baseball after making only two starts in 2022 and learning the cause of his forearm tightness. He relishes the time spent with wife Caroline and son McCoy, and he took up golf as a hobby, which can frustrate him more than the surgery.

“It’s not going very well,” he said.

* Mullins will leave camp to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He's got to ramp up earlier than normal to engage in the competition.

"It's definitely going to be an adjustment," he said yesterday. "I've had talks with some guys, just kind of getting a feel for where I need to be."

Mullins reached out to former Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who twice played in the WBC, to get an idea of "what percentage he was at."

"He said roughly 80 would be good to go in, kind of get your feet wet," Mullins recalled. "You're still trying to prepare for a season, but you definitely want to be ready for the WBC as well.

"It's exciting. I'm going to be around a bunch of well-renown talent. These guys have been doing it for a long time and it's just an honor to be a part of it."

There's one member of Team USA that Mullins is most excited to be around and pick his brain.

"I hear our hitting coach is Ken Griffey (Jr.)," Mullins said, "so that will probably be my guy that I sit close to and talk to for a little bit."

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