Means ready for latest challenge

Orioles left-hander John Means continues his series of firsts in the majors today with his initial up-close looks at the Angels’ Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

Means has pitched to Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. He’s faced Khris Davis. His first three games in 2019 were against the Yankees. He’s wandered into baseball’s mine fields.

Trout and Pujols present another dangerous situation. But one that doesn’t seem to rattle him.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Means said. “I think it’s really cool to get to face one of the best players (Trout) of our generation and that’s like the true testament to him, how good your stuff really is. This is the best player on the planet, so I’m excited to do that.”

So typical of Means to be jazzed instead of rattled.

“He’s a quiet guy, kind of a quiet, confident guy,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “I like that back against the wall type of player. I think he’s out to prove something every time out. I think he said that after his last start when he talked about being a later-round pick and not being a prospect, having to prove himself, and I think that’s really worked in his favor.

“That’s how he pitches for me is a guy who’s trying to prove something. And it’s kind of his demeanor, too. He’s pretty laid back, but has got a lot of confidence and I think it’s worked out well.”

Trout is slashing .280/.453/.551 after taking a rare 0-for-5 yesterday, his on-base percentage again leading the American League. He’s done it in the previous three seasons. It’s just the old normal for him.

The lineup also figures to include Pujols, who sat out Friday night but homered twice yesterday to raise his career total to 641. In case Trout wasn’t enough to quicken the rookie’s pulse.

John-Means-Delivers-Back-vs-BOS-White-Sidebar.jpg“The guy’s been great for so long,” Means said. “I was telling somebody the other day, that’s kind of like the first guy you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s the guy I watched growing up’ that I’ve faced so far or are about to.

“I’ve been watching him. He was in junior college right down the road from me when he was drafted. That’s going to be cool, as well.”

Means has more of an advantage this season against left-handers, who are slashing .143/.217/.333 against him. But right-handers haven’t exactly feasted on him while batting .230/.288/.360.

They’re all small sample sizes with Means’ limited experience, but he’s had the most trouble against White Sox catcher James McCann, who’s 3-for-5 with a double against him. Martinez is 2-for-5 with a double and home run.

Betts is 1-for-7 with a double. Giancarlo Stanton has struck out in both at-bats.

Means already is becoming battle-tested in the early phase of his major league career.

“I think especially in this league we have now, there are big bats everywhere,” he said. “There’s big bats, there’s guys who can do a lot of damage. Intimidating guys in the box. Even (Justin) Bour for them. That guy’s massive. You see him in the box, and you’re not seeing that in the minor leagues. You’re seeing that only up here in the best league there is and it’s really cool.

“It’s just an honor to come here every day and pitch against these guys.”

With a 2.48 ERA and 1.010 WHIP in 32 2/3 innings, Means is doing more than just holding his own against them. There are stretches of pure dominance. Starts where he’s spotting a 93 mph fastball, befuddling hitters with his plus changeup and, in his last outing, mixing in two breaking balls that he knew would be needed as more opponents fixated on the off-speed stuff.

“Every hitter has his holes and ways to get him out,” he said. “We’ve gone over the analytic side of it and kind of where to pitch certain guys. It’s just that some hitters are a lot more consistent in hitting mistakes than others and I think that’s kind of what makes hitters great.

“That’s what makes Mike Trout great. He doesn’t miss mistakes. You don’t make mistakes, you can get him out.”

While the Orioles are feeling good about Means, they spent yesterday’s postgame trying to stamp out any concerns over Dylan Bundy, whose drop in velocity led to his removal after 80 pitches.

It wasn’t a drastic decrease overall. His four-seamer averaged a career-low 89.8 mph per Statcast data, but we’re not talking 85-86 mph, which really sets off alarms. I noticed multiple instances with his fastball hitting 91 mph. But both home runs by Pujols came on 89 mph heat and the fastball was down to 87 in the fifth inning and prompted visits from catcher Austin Wynns and later pitching coach Doug Brocail.

“He said he was OK,” Hyde said, “but it just didn’t look right for us and so that’s why we took him out after five.”

Head athletic trainer Brian Ebel didn’t express any concerns to Hyde and Bundy said he wasn’t aware of his radar readings.

“I didn’t look up there and see a problem,” Bundy said. “I might look at a few mechanical things. But overall my arm feels great, so I’ll just keep chucking it.”

And the Orioles will keep checking his velocity and listening for alarms.

Bundy’s next turn is Thursday in Cleveland, where the Orioles open a four-game series.

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