Alex Cobb is on the injured list for a third time. The Orioles determined in spring training that Nate Karns was more likely to hold up physically if pitching in relief, though he joined Cobb on the IL.
Those are the circumstances.
Means’ 2.81 ERA is the lowest on the club among pitchers with a minimum of 8 2/3 innings, the cutoff that keeps Karns and Gabriel Ynoa from ranking ahead of him. Or a catcher pressed into emergency relief duty.
That’s the performance part.
The ERA was down to 1.74 before Means allowed four runs in five innings Monday against the White Sox. His third consecutive start working exactly five innings.
This is the area where Means is most determined to improve. He wants to crash through that fifth inning wall, he needs to crash through that fifth inning wall.
“I think you’re just trying to attack the zone with your best pitches, not try to waste anything,” he said. “Sometimes you try to throw a slider back foot and you spike the heck out of it, or you throw a fastball way up. But it’s really just attacking the zone and get the early swings, early outs. That’s the easiest way to do it.”
Means has thrown 82, 92 and 91 pitches in the three starts. He’s stretched out to the point where he can hover around 100, but the idea is to do it in a more economical fashion. Venture into quality start territory with the minimum requirement of six innings.
Dylan Bundy gave the Orioles only their fifth quality start of the season last night. They were tied for the fewest in the majors.
“There are more things I need to work on, but right now this is all I’m focused on,” Means said.
“This early in your career you kind of just tackle one thing at a time and then kind of build and build through your career. Even (Andrew) Cashner has stuff that he’s working on. You’re constantly throughout your career ... you never have this game figured out, you never know everything. You’re always working on something. And that’s the thing I’m working on right now. And when I figure it out I’m sure there will be something else.”
Means is allowing himself to feel comfortable in the rotation. Not taking the opportunity for granted but also not trying to locate pitches while glancing over his shoulder.
“I think they have the confidence in me to go out there and give them a strong outing every time,” he said, “and that’s what I want to develop, to be reliable.”
The journey continues for Means. From an extreme longshot to break camp with the team to left-handed long reliever to the only lefty in the rotation - and the most effective starter.
“It’s still a whirlwind, I’m still kind of numb to it all,” he said, “but I’m just happy to be here, I’m happy to provide and I’m just going to try to keep going out there every five days right now and get a win.”
The Rays will remember Means from his last relief appearance - the two scoreless, hitless innings that earned him the win in the 11th at Tropicana Field. Certainly a highlight of the young season.
Means will stick with what got him there.
“They know what I do,” he said. “With all the analytics and everything going on, they know exactly what I have. You go out there and you put your best up and they’ll put their best up and it ends how it ends.”