Making it through the fifth was now an issue.
Means managed to complete five innings while continuing to impress in his rookie campaign and the Orioles claimed their fourth series opener in the last five opportunities with a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays before an announced crowd of 12,524 at Camden Yards.
The bullpen held the Jays to one run over the last four innings and the Orioles improved to 21-45 overall and 9-23 at home.
Means tied his career high with seven strikeouts, equaling his total from a May 29 start against the Tigers. The only run off him tonight came on leadoff hitter Eric Sogard’s homer in the first inning.
The side wasn’t retired in order with Means in the game, but he kept making critical pitches to turn back the Jays. The last was a changeup to strike out Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Sogard jumped on Means’ fourth pitch, a 92 mph fastball over the middle of the plate, and Grichuk drew a two-out walk. First baseman Chris Davis overran a foul popup for an error that extended Means’ stay on the mound.
A single and three strikeouts cost Means another 22 pitches in the second, but he needed only 14 in the third despite Sogard’s leadoff single and a double play closed the fourth after 12.
Maybe five complete innings wasn’t so outrageous.
Means threw 22 pitches in his last frame to raise his total to 103, with two walks issued and three more strikeouts - two on fastballs and another on his changeup. His ERA is down to 2.60, still a little short of qualifying among league leaders.
Over his last three starts, Means has allowed three runs and 11 hits with four walks and 19 strikeouts in 17 innings. His eight home runs surrendered put him one behind Alex Cobb, who logged only 12 1/3 innings before agreeing to season-ending hip surgery.
Manager Brandon Hyde broke out his 65th different lineup in 66 games, the only repeat coming with back-to-back games in Houston to close out the series.
Chance Sisco batted cleanup tonight for the second time after homering at Minute Maid Park. He walked in the second inning and doubled to left field in the third to score Trey Mancini with the tie-breaking run.
“It’s just kind of how we match up,” Hyde said. “Ideally I’d like to make it somewhat hard on the other guys where we go left, right as much as we can. Just kind of how the matchup is today.”
Anthony Santander singled with one out in the third and scored on Mancini’s double. Sisco followed with an opposite-field double and moved to third on Renato Núñez’s single, but the Orioles couldn’t build on their lead.
Villar doubled with two outs in the fourth and came home when the Jays let Santander’s fly ball drop near the right field line for a gift double. Sogard chased it down and backed away at the last instant as Grichuk arrived late.
Hyde started Santander in left field again while Dwight Smith Jr. remained on the concussion injured list. Santander responded with his fourth career three-hit game.
Smith could be ready when he’s eligible Friday against the Red Sox.
“I think it’s going to be close,” Hyde said. “I think he’s progressing every day. Still going through tests. I know they had a light workout with him yesterday to see how he recovered. I think everything went well.
“Obviously we’re going to error on the side of caution but he’s progressing and moving in the right direction.”
Blue Jays starter Trent Thornton walked the bases loaded in the second but retired Wilkerson on a ground ball. Five of the seven hits off him in five innings were doubles.
Shawn Armstrong retired all six batters he faced with three strikeouts after relieving Means. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 13 of his 15 appearances with the Orioles.
Castro’s scoreless streak ended at five appearances after he walked Gurriel with two outs in the eighth and Grichuk followed with a pop up down the right field line that eluded Davis’ reach.
Givens hasn’t allowed a run or hit in his last four appearances over 4 1/3 innings.
Hyde on Means gutting out five innings: “Over 30 pitches after the first inning, grinding through it. I don’t think his command was as good as he would have liked. They fouled off a ton of pitches. His changeup wasn’t quite getting below the zone enough. I don’t think his fastball command was where he would like it, but gutty performance. Five really good innings, especially after battling through the first inning. Gave us a chance. He did a great job.”
Hyde on goal of getting pitch count lower: “There were a lot of changeups that were top of the knee to mid-thigh that they were getting a lot of foul balls on. Instead of being able to work it below the zone like put-away changeups or being able to lock guys in with fastballs on the inside corner. He left a lot of balls over the plate where they got enough of. Wasted a lot of pitches that were thigh-high instead of getting it just below the knees or above the waist to get a swing and miss. He really pitched well after that and kind of got into a groove and outstanding.”
Hyde on confidence in Means: “Yeah, they can feel really good when John Means is on the mound, for sure. Everybody loves his tempo. Works quick, is aggressive, throws strikes. You love to play behind a guy like that and you love to be in the dugout with a guy like that where the game’s moving and this guy’s out there battling and you really feel that when he’s on the mound.”
Hyde on bullpen: “Shawn Armstrong, what a great job. He’s been throwing the ball really well and good to see. We’ve had a lot of conversations as of late. He’s had a difficult time with that first hitter, then he pitches well after that. To come out of the bullpen there in the sixth and get that first hitter ... He pumps strikes and changes speeds and his cutter was pretty good, located his fastball, no walks. That was a nice bridge to the backend guys.”
“I thought Miguel Castro threw the ball great, just that two-out walk that always comes back to bite you. But then he gave up that flare single after that. He made a really good pitch to Grichuk. So he threw the ball really well. Bleier came in and does what he does, got a ground ball. Then Mikie, Mikie’s got a little different look going in his eyes. Awesome to see.”
Means on pitch count: “My pitch count was up every inning. It seemed like there was some long at-bat or a runner getting on. I just couldn’t get that clean inning. But thanks to the bullpen for helping out. (Armstrong) did a great job coming in. He just shoved.”
Means on whether success feels normal to him now: “If you think you’re going to lose or you think you’re going to get hit, you’ve already lost. I go out there with confidence every time.”
Means on important of efficiency: “That one at-bat in the first was just foul ball after foul ball. I have to attack better. I wasn’t getting ahead of guys, either, so that was an issue. Not only were there long at-bats, but I wasn’t getting strike one, strike two very consistently. I had to pitch behind in the count a lot. That’s definitely on me.”
Armstrong on why he’s been better with Orioles: “Coming off that oblique tear out of spring training where I missed three to four weeks, that was a major setback where I put all that time in in the offseason and all the time in spring training and all that stuff. But injuries happen. Fortunately I landed in a great spot here. I love the coaching staff here, I love the pitching group we have here and our scouting department does an unbelievable job here with the communication. So I think trusting them, and then it comes down to really when you get in the game trusting your stuff.
“You’ve got to trust your stuff out there. If you’re second-guessing yourself, things tend to go haywire. And I’ve been there. We all have. But working as a group like we are, I think I’m in a great spot and I’m excited to see how the rest of the year is going to go.”