Brandon Hyde isn’t being coy or playing mind games with the opposition before his team hits the field for the actual competition.
The second-year Orioles manager would like to post his lineup early - or at a reasonable hour. However, he has to wait until making the rounds in the clubhouse and during batting practice. Checking whether his day-to-day guys are full-go at night.
Renato Núñez didn’t play in the last two games due to a sore hamstring. Hyde was able to write in his name as the designated hitter, easing some strain on the leg.
Cedric Mullins was conspicuous by his absence over the weekend, unable to be used as a defensive replacement or to start, but he convinced Hyde to put him in center field.
The discomfort in José Iglesias’ left quadriceps eased to the point where he could play shortstop tonight, freeing the DH spot for Núñez. But the arrangement eliminated any possibility of Hyde inserting two of his catchers in the lineup.
This is business as usual for the Orioles, who lost right fielder Anthony Santander with a strained oblique, continue to wait for center fielder Austin Hays to return from a fractured rib, can’t empty the trainers’ room and won’t go away.
DJ Stewart, Ryan Mountcastle, Rio Ruiz and Pat Valaika hit home runs, John Means had his fastball and changeup working while going a season-high six innings, and the Orioles defeated the Mets 11-2 at Citi Field.
Stewart homered for the fourth time in three games, powering a Michael Wacha changeup into the upper deck in the second inning. Mountcastle also launched a changeup in the third and the Orioles won their fourth consecutive game to improve their record to 20-21. The treatment of New York-based teams remains harsh.
Means retired 11 in a row before issuing a walk and held the Mets to one run and three hits in six innings for his first win since Sept. 28, 2019. Jake Marisnick hit a solo home run in the second inning to answer Stewart’s two-run shot, but Mountcastle drove a high changeup over the center field fence after Núñez grounded into a force.
The fifth inning reached its conclusion after Wilson Ramos’ line drive deflected off Means’ left arm and rolled to Iglesias. Means smiled and gave a thumbs-up as he headed to the dugout.
Jeff McNeil walked with one out in the sixth to end Means’ streak, but a strikeout and bouncer got the left-hander back to the bench at 97 pitches. His ERA dropped from 8.10 to 6.58.
An Orioles starter completed six innings for the fifth time this season and it’s now happened in back-to-back games.
The rotation has surrendered only two earned runs in the last four games for a 0.81 ERA.
Mullins had a double and triple in his first two at-bats, his three-bagger in the fourth scoring Valaika for a 5-1 lead. Valaika reached after his fly ball bounced off Marisnick’s glove.
An infield hit in the eighth left Mullins a home run short of the cycle.
Ruiz delivered a three-run shot off reliever Robert Gsellman in the fifth to give the Orioles a 9-1 lead. Valaika led off the eighth with a home run off Gsellman.
The Orioles keep performing the fascinating and thus far successful balancing act of conducting business to enhance their future but also remaining in contention. They’re a half-game behind the Yankees for the last playoff spot.
“Our young guys have given us a huge boost,” Hyde said earlier today. “We’re still pretty banged up. We’re still waiting for some guys to come back. Losing Santander was a huge loss, but if you look at our pitching numbers, our pitching has just improved over the last couple weeks. If you can pitch, you’re always going to give yourself a chance and we’ve done that fairly well.”
Iglesias singled in the third inning to extend his hitting streak to 13 games after moving up to second in the order. His only game out of the third spot. He was out at second base on Núñez’s ground ball, but Mountcastle homered for the fourth time in 16 games.
Valaika beat out a grounder to short with two outs in the fifth to score Pedro Severino for a 6-1 lead. Gsellman had replaced Wacha to start the inning.
Severino moved up to third base because plate umpire Carlos Torres missed a foul tip and the official scorer ruled a passed ball on Ramos. Stewart walked to bring Valaika to the plate.
Ruiz lined a sinker over the right field fence for his eighth home run of the season. He singled earlier and quietly has built a nine-game hitting streak.
Valaika got loud in the eighth inning and is 10-for-24 this month. Iglesias had an RBI single for his ninth multi-hit game in his last 12. And the Orioles and Yankees matched loss totals for the season.
The trainers’ room is full, but the Orioles keep getting healthier in the standings.
Hyde on Means: “That was great to see. That was John Means of a lot of starts from last year. How he pitched aggressive with his fastball to both sides of the plate. Got some fade action to his changeup. Really kept guys off balance and with some nice breaking balls also. The composure on the mound, never looked discouraged. Didn’t show frustration tonight. Really showed a lot of poise on the mound. Loved John’s mound presence. That was John from last year for me.”
Hyde on his meeting with Means: “I believe in communication, I believe in being honest and I just wanted to discuss his last few of outings. I was obviously very sensitive to what he’s gone through this year. But I thought we had a nice conversation about what he really did well last year, who he is, what kind of pitcher he is. Kind of going back to some things that he did very, very well last year, and for me that’s a major league starter in this league for a long time. And I felt like he was getting away from that a little bit. And I also wanted to see the poise on the mound that he showed last year. I just thought that he looked really discouraged a lot, I didn’t like his mound presence, I didn’t like his demeanor on the mound. It felt like he was pitching out of frustration instead of pitching to win and being competitive and going to the next pitch and moving on. Those types of things he did very well last year, I just wanted to remind him of that.”
Means on fastball and changeup working: “Honestly, this is the first time I’ve felt like myself. There was just a slight mentality change what caused me to have everything going tonight. This is the best I’ve felt all year. Coming into summer camp, I didn’t feel like this at all, so it’s nice to get back there.”
Means on mentality change: “It was just staying more relaxed. I was trying to force a lot of things, trying to get strikeouts and blow it by everybody and it’s just not how I pitch. That’s not me. Hyde actually called me in the office this past week and gave me a tough talk and told me this isn’t me, this isn’t how I pitch, this isn’t how I should be. I was getting frustrated, I was getting upset and angry with myself, and to be able to relax out there and just be myself, it really helped me.”
Means on Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer: “Those guys are great pitchers. I saw Akin in Double-A and I knew what he was capable of. The Orioles should be very excited for the future for the guys coming up. It’s exciting to see those guys pitch. To see guys make their debuts and have that joy of the game, honestly it helps me kind of getting that joy back. I haven’t been having very much fun pitching these last few outings, and to see those guys go out there and they’re happy to be here, they’re joyful, they’re excited to get on the field, it honestly helps me seeing that.”
Means on Orioles’ hot streak: “I think it could go longer. We’re seeing the ball well, we’re pitching well. We’re a good team right now and the chemistry is really kicking.”
Ruiz on Means: “That was huge, man. That was huge for him, I’m sure. But he’s always fun to play behind. He’s always attacking the zone, he works quick. It’s great to see him back to himself.”