The velocity was fine. The hard contact was not. And there was more of it than usual.
Starting his first major league game since June 5, Means allowed two runs in the first inning, Randy Arozarena’s solo homer in the third and Francisco Mejía’s two-run shot in the fourth, and the Rays erupted again late to defeat the Orioles 9-3 at Tropicana Field.
Means allowed five runs in five innings, with manager Brandon Hyde making the switch after 78 pitches, and the Orioles fell to 31-63 overall and 1-8 against Tampa Bay. They failed again to build their first four-game winning streak in 2021.
The five runs were the most against Means since July 20, 2020, his first start of the truncated season.
“Physically, I felt good,” Means said on his Zoom call. “I was just throwing too many strikes, too many pitches over the plate. I thought I was attacking and so were they. I had too many fat pitches today.”
Orioles pitchers allowed one run in the last 22 innings before tonight. The Rays flipped the script while jumping Means, getting a leadoff double from Arozarena in the first and RBI bloop single by Vidal Bruján.
Austin Meadows flied to deep center field, with Cedric Mullins making a nice running grab but committing an error with a throw that enabled Bruján to take third base and score on Wander Franco’s sacrifice fly.
There was a decline on the spin rate on Means’ pitches, but he didn’t lay any blame on the new rules regarding substances.
“I think it was just one of those outings coming off rehab, I wasn’t as sharp as I would like,” he said.
“I thought my curveball felt good, I thought my changeup, I threw some good ones, some bad ones that were just middle of the plate. I liked the movement on it, they were just middle. The one to Mejía and the one to Arozarena, it was just middle-middle and that’s going to happen. I thought my fastball command was OK. I wasn’t really locating well in. And I thought the slider was decent.”
Austin Hays had three hits last night from the leadoff spot and Mullins began tonight’s game with a single off Rays rookie left-hander Shane McClanahan, a Baltimore native who attended high school in Cape Coral, Fla.
Anthony Santander doubled with one out in the second, advanced on a wild pitch with two outs and scored on Pedro Severino’s single. McClanahan loaded the bases by walking Pat Valaika and hitting Kelvin Gutierrez, but he struck out Mullins on an elevated 98 mph fastball.
Severino, celebrating his 28th birthday, was 5-for-12 with a double, home run, three RBIs and a walk since the break.
Arozarena led off the bottom half with his 11th home run, driving a 92.6 mph fastball over the center field fence for a 3-1 lead.
The Rays had two errors by the fourth and a season-high four by the eighth, but also a lead they wouldn’t mishandle. They came close, however, with two miscues in the eighth allowing the Orioles to score twice and bring the go-ahead run to the plate.
Arozarena is an Orioles tormentor, with the home run making him 14-for-30 with 14 RBIs against them this season.
Brandon Lowe led off the fourth with a single, his fly ball dropping in front of Mullins, and Mejía took a changeup to left-center field for a 5-1 lead.
Means has surrendered 15 home runs this season, 12 with no one on base.
“I just thought he was rusty early,” Hyde said on his Zoom call. “I thought he got better as the game went on, I thought his stuff improved. The breaking ball and changeup both got better. But Mejía got him with that homer there right-handed, kind of an ambush, but there was a bloop single before that. But he threw five innings. I was encouraged, I thought he improved as the outing went along.”
The pitch count stood at 78 after Means retired the side in order in the fifth. César Valdez entered the game in the sixth and retired all six batters he faced, giving him back-to-back scoreless appearances totaling five innings.
“I thought I could have easily gone back out there,” Means said, “but I get it, I get that it’s my first outing coming back and I hadn’t made it past three innings in the minor leagues, so I understand that. But I really thought I could have finished a little stronger than I did.”
“His last appearance at Norfolk was three-plus and he hadn’t been on the mound five times,” Hyde said, “so we got him through five, probably could have kept going. He feels good, that’s the positive, and now we’ll continue to stretch him out.”
The Orioles bullpen notched 12 1/3 scoreless innings in the last four games until the eighth, when Shaun Anderson loaded the bases with one out - Domingo Leyba came off the bench and committed an error at second base - and Mejía cleared them with a triple. Mejía scored on Ji-Man Choi’s single.
McClanahan was removed after five innings, seven strikeouts and a career-high 93 pitches. He held the Orioles to one run and four hits and walked only one batter.
Hays reached on Franco’s error to lead off the eighth, moved to third on Mancini’s fly ball and scored on Lowe’s misplay of Mountcastle’s low liner in right field. Santander followed with a double to reduce the lead to 5-3.
Santander made it to third base on a wild pitch by J.P. Feyereisen and Ramón Urías walked. Pete Fairbanks replaced Feyereisen and struck out Severino on three pitches and pinch-hitter DJ Stewart on five.
Hyde chose to use Anderson in a high-leverage situation and the Rays broke open the game. Anderson has allowed 10 runs (six earned) in three appearances over 4 2/3 innings.
Notes: The Orioles signed their fourth-round draft pick, University of Arizona outfielder Donta’ Williams. Three of their selections are under contract, including first-rounder Colton Cowser and second-rounder Connor Norby.
Double-A Bowie’s Toby Welk hit his fourth home run and Johnny Rizer hit his sixth. Cody Sedlock allowed six runs and six hits, including three home runs, in four innings. However, Blaine Knight tossed four scoreless innings with one hit, one walk and seven strikeouts.