SARASOTA, Fla. - Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said earlier today that he wanted two innings from John Means and for the left-hander to come out of the game “feeling good.” Simple goals for the first start.
“That’s it,” he said.
He got one out of two. The most important component.
Means was removed after 1 1/3 innings with his pitch count at 39. Jay Flaa inherited two Tampa Bay runners and let one score on Michael Brosseau’s RBI single for a 2-0 lead.
A wind-blown triple by Brandon Lowe leading off the second inning put Means in a bind. Left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. broke back on the ball, raced toward the line, reached out and couldn’t make the catch.
“It is what it is,” Means said. “These winds are howling out here, so nothing on Dwight. That was a tough one.”
Daniel Robertson followed with a clean single for a 1-0 lead. Nate Lowe struck out looking, but Ryan LaMarre reached on an infield hit and Means was done.
Twenty-five of Means’ 39 pitches were strikes. He struck out three batters.
An outing that unraveled through no fault of his own.
“In spring training you’re not too worried about results,” he said. “You’re really just worried about how you feel, how the ball’s coming out, how the hitters are reacting. And I honestly felt really good. I felt like the fastball was there, changeup was there, curveball was there. So yeah, I definitely felt a lot better than the two runs.”
Means retired the Rays in order in the first inning, striking out Mike Zunino and José Martinez. The changeup, curveball and slider looked good. The fastball was 91-93 mph on the stadium gun.
This spring is different for Means, of course, because he isn’t fighting to earn a roster spot. He isn’t going to be the last man surviving cuts. He could be the opening day starter.
Even the preparation won’t be duplicated.
“Last year I think my first outing was one inning and it kind of went like that where I felt really good but gave up a couple runs,” he said. “This year I’m trying to ease a little further back into it. I have a role now, so I’m kind of easing into starting, trying to feel pitches out, where last year I was trying to make a statement.”
Means is on a starter’s five-day schedule. Off-day, bullpen, off-day, off-day, pitch.
“Kind of get in the swing of things,” he said.
“Last spring I think I was just thrown into some starts, some relieving appearances,” he said, “but now it’s nice to be in a routine.”
Means is working on a second breaking ball and he’s seeking to be more consistent. Becoming a staff ace and All-Star representative as a rookie won’t allow him to rest.
“Last year I gave up a home run every game there for a stretch,” he said. “Just being more consistent, attack hitters. Consistency comes with your time in the game, so I think having a side routine is going to be big.”
Non-roster catcher Bryan Holaday is making his first start today. He’s become more familiar with Means during workouts and intended to sit down with him later in the morning to formulate a pitching game plan.
“I caught him in the bullpen a couple times already and it’s just an ongoing conversation,” Holaday said. “And then when he gets here today we’re going to sit down and we’ll go over what he wants to do and what he wants to work on, if there’s anything in particular. How he wants me to set up on certain pitches and how we want to attack guys and put them away.”
Means struck out Zunino with the changeup and Martinez with a slider. Two put-away pitches.
Miguel Castro recorded a strikeout to close out a scoreless third inning, but he walked three batters. He got a double play ball from Martinez.
LaMarre led off the fourth with an automatic double off Tanner Scott and scored on Dylan Cozens’ single to increase the lead to 3-0. Scott walked Brosseau and struck out Meadows, but Zunino reached on a fielder’s choice and José Iglesias’ throwing error to load the bases.
Martinez struck out and Hyde brought in minor league pitcher Francisco Jimenez, who let all three inherited runners score on Lowe’s wind-blown double to left-center. Stevie Wilkerson couldn’t run down the ball in the gap.
Lowe came home on Renato Núñez’s throwing error for a 7-0 lead.
The Orioles have one baserunner in three innings. Chris Davis drew a four-pitch walk in the first. He’s walked three times and singled in four plate appearances this spring.
Update: Davis took right-hander Trevor Richards to the opposite field in the fourth inning for a solo home run on an 0-2 pitch.
Davis is out of the game and hasn’t been retired in five plate appearances.
Update II: Rylan Bannon hit a solo home run in the eighth inning, a no-doubter to left field, but the Orioles lost 15-2. They also lost to the Red Sox 12-4 in Fort Myers.
Carroll retired the side in order and continued to impress.
Michael Perez hit a three-run homer off Dillon Tate in the seventh for an 11-1 lead. Marcos Diplán was charged with four runs in the eighth. Cristian Alvarado inherited three runners and they all scored.
“We had a lot of trouble getting through innings,” said Hyde, who didn’t have a pitcher after Alvarado and needed the right-hander to get through the ninth. “I love the way Cody Carroll threw the ball. We had good stuff. It’s the first outing. We’re going to get a mulligan and hopefully those guys’ command gets better as the spring goes along.”
Hyde was impressed with Means, knowing that the elements worked against him.
“John Means, that was mid-season form for me,” Hyde said. “I loved the breaking ball today. Fastball had really good life. Saw a bunch of 93s on the board that I think is a tick slow. Good changeup, good breaking ball. We misplayed a ball in the outfield that cut his outing short, but great to see good stuff from him.”
Davis still hasn’t been retired.
“I love it when he hits it over the fence the other way,” Hyde said. “Good at-bat, good walk. And then drives the ball. Two good swings before the home run, too. Aggressive swings that I liked. We talked about that more than the home run. Just his passes at the ball, there’s something behind it. He’s on time. Maybe a hair late, but then caught up to the heater and he’s so strong, he gets the barrel on the baseball, it’s going to go a long ways.”