The plan for left-hander Johns Means today was to extend him further than his first start after his reinstatement from the injured list. The pitch limit would be stretched beyond 78. His innings in the right scenario would move past the fifth.
“I’m going to bump him up,” manager Brandon Hyde said earlier in the day. “Hopefully, everything goes well and he’ll go deeper in the game.”
Means kept Hyde relaxed until the sixth, when Ryan Zimmerman hit a three-run homer to erase a 3-1 lead. Trey Mancini, Maikel Franco and Ryan McKenna homered earlier in the game, the three Orioles working solo, and McKenna dived across the plate on a Ramón Urías ground ball in the ninth for a 5-4 victory and series sweep before an announced crowd of 15,690 at Camden Yards.
Singles by Cedric Mullins and Mancini off Daniel Hudson to begin the eighth were wasted - Ryan Mountcastle grounded into a double play on the eighth pitch and DJ Stewart struck out on the eighth - but Brad Hand hit Franco on an 0-2 pitch to lead off the ninth. McKenna singled and pinch-hitter Austin Hays walked to load the bases with no outs, Pat Valaika flied to deep right to tie the game, third baseman Carter Kieboom threw late after fielding Urías’ ball and the Orioles headed into their off-day at 34-64. They’re 1-51 when trailing after the eighth.
“I think overall today was just a good day, I was glad that we could win that game,” McKenna said on his Zoom call. “We’ve had a lot of close games toward the end and haven’t gone our way, so pulling that out going into the off-day, good vibes all around for the team. And it was a fun day for me to be part of the win.
“I think our team has been very resilient. Props to everyone coming together collectively and picking each other up. We know we’re talented, we know we can go out there and win ballgames.”
The Orioles had their first home three-game sweep of the Nationals since 2010 and their sixth three-game winning streak this season, but it wasn’t official until a review. Catcher Tres Barrera slapped the tag on McKenna on an extremely close play.
“Hyder made a great call,” McKenna said. “We were going on contact right there, one out. We had Haysie at second and Urías is good at putting the ball in play, he’s been swinging well. It was the right play, the right read.”
“We had one of our better guys to have at third base in that situation, obviously running on contact there,” Hyde said. “McKenna got a really nice read, ball hit dirt early, great slide at the end. I was just kind of hoping the throw would be off-line. He’s a plus runner and got a good break. ... Good things happen when you put the ball in play and Mac with a really nice contact read there. Was a fun one.”
Means was at 49 pitches going into the sixth, with just a run and two hits against him and having retired 14 of 15. He drilled Alcides Escobar for the second time leading off the inning and Valaika, starting at shortstop, couldn’t handle Trea Turner’s blistering grounder that was scored a hit but would have been a double play if handled. Juan Soto flied out, Josh Bell struck out on a full-count, 94 mph fastball and Zimmermann cleared the center field fence for a 4-3 lead.
Hyde let Means return for the seventh and his ace retired the first two batters before Escobar doubled. Paul Fry stranded the runner and Means was charged with four runs and five hits with one walk, two strikeouts and three hit batters in 6 2/3 innings.
Mancini has homered in back-to-back games for the third time this season. Today’s game-tying, 455-foot shot to left-center field in the first inning was the longest for the Orioles since Jonathan Villar in May 2019, per MLB Stats, and the second-longest of his career.
Franco gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead in the second with a full-count blast to left field off Paolo Espino, making his first career start against them. Franco’s last home run on June 21 broke up the Astros’ combined no-hitter in the eighth inning.
McKenna got his first major league home run with two outs in the fourth, on the seventh pitch of his at-bat. The ball kept carrying until center fielder Victor Robles ran out of room, his back pressed against the fence.
“Felt great,” McKenna said. “It’s always good when you find the barrel and put a good swing on a good pitch. If I get the ball I might just keep it. I think my dad got the first hit, so I might just keep that in my house.”
McKenna is on the team because Anthony Santander went on the COVID-19 list.
“He’s an energetic player, takes competitive at-bats, plays outstanding defense, can play all three spots,” Hyde said. “Really like his baserunning ability. He’s been fun to have on the club just because there’s a lot of life in how he plays. It’s fun to watch a young player continue to get better.”
Means faced a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first after hitting Escobar, allowing a single to Turner on a liner over Valaika and walking Soto. The next three batters swung at the first pitch, and only one run scored after a popup, fielder’s choice and ground ball.
The 13-pitch inning had a much more ominous look than how it played out.
Means retired nine in a row before Bell’s leadoff single in the fourth, followed by a double play and ground ball to leave him at 45 pitches. His fifth inning was so quick, he needed only four to complete it.
He threw 26 in a sixth that changed the direction of the game and his start.
“I felt a lot more in control today, I felt like I was hitting my spots a little better,” Means said. “My changeup felt a lot better than it did, it felt like it was less firm and doing what I wanted it to do. Overall, I just felt more in control. The only thing I wish I could have done better was throw some inside fastballs more accurate, but that was it.”
The Zimmerman home run “was just bad location, one pitch I wish I had back,” Means said. “That’s going to happen, especially in this park and this league. Just one of those pitches you wish you had back, but that’s baseball.”
Fry entered the game with Means at 87 pitches, nine more than he totaled in five innings during his return start against the Rays. Fry got a called third strike on Turner and left in the eighth with two on and two outs, striking out Soto and Zimmerman.
César Valdez loaded the bases with a walk and retired pinch-hitter Yadiel Hernández on a fly ball.
“I thought (Means) was really good,” Hyde said. “I just thought a few bad pitches. The two hit-by-pitches to Escobar when he’s trying to go in, one that grazed him, one got him, that led to runs, unfortunately. But I thought his changeup was much better than his last start, I thought he threw some good breaking balls. I think the fastball command is close to being where he wants it to be. It’s getting there. But he had a bunch of quick innings, he was pumping strikes.”
Hyde is plotting various innings strategies with his pitchers. Which ones need to be handled more carefully, which ones are equipped to stay on a normal schedule.
Keeping Means on regular rest became a priority. A preference of the team and the pitcher.
“He wanted that, also, just kind of keep the routine going,” Hyde said earlier. “Now we’ll see as we go along if I need to give him an extra day or two, with all of our guys. But we’re very, very aware of how many innings everybody throws and we’re monitoring it really closely.”
Hyde said he isn’t sure about Keegan Akin’s role after the left-hander returns from the COVID-19 list. Akin will throw a bullpen session “and we’ll figure it out, we’ll see where we are.”
Going with a six-man rotation isn’t a consideration right now.
“I think it’s a wait-and-see, it’s possible,” Hyde said. “It just really hampers your bullpen when you do that and right now we’re long-heavy, which is nice, but then also hampers your bench. It’s like a win-loss situation.
“There are a lot of times when I wish I could defend or run for somebody and I just don’t have the ability to. ... You kind of see where you are week to week and go from there. Off-days play a part in that, too, big-time.”
The Orioles get another break on Monday before resuming their homestand. Means won’t pitch again until the team is in Detroit - probably on Saturday with an extra day of rest.
His second inning today was clean because McKenna made a diving catch in shallow left field after slowing up, glancing at Valaika and turning on the jets, and Franco made a backhanded stop of a sharp one-hopper and throw across the diamond.
Who knows what happens for Means if Valaika isn’t eaten alive by Turner’s ball in the sixth?
He enjoyed the dramatic finish, the win and his movement toward his former, pre-injury self.
“The team really showed up for me,” Means said. “We played good defense, had great at-bats, honestly, the whole game. For the team to pick me up after not doing as well as I hoped, it’s just huge and it’s pretty nice to see. It’s been very fun in the clubhouse in the past five minutes.”
“It’s nice to get a sweep, it’s nice to have a come-from-behind win,” Hyde said. “There haven’t been very much the last few years, so it’s nice to watch our guys celebrate right now.”