SARASOTA, Fla. - After starting and throwing two scoreless innings versus the Yankees in Tampa Friday night, left-hander John Means gets another start on the mound today as the Orioles play the Rays in Port Charlotte.
Means, an 11th-round pick out of West Virginia University in 2014, might currently be on the fringes of the fifth-starter competition, but another solid outing could enhance his shot to make this roster.
He made his big league debut late last season, got into one game at Boston and then went home this winter with one goal in mind. To add some velocity to his fastball. He did it, and the Yankees saw that Friday night. After allowing three runs in one-third of an inning in his first spring game, he threw two scoreless at a Yankees’ lineup filled with regulars. He recorded outs against Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Brett Gardner, and he struck out Gary Sánchez.
The 25-year-old Means can be called a soft-tosser no more. Once a lefty with a fastball that sat between 88 and 91 mph, he’s touched 95 this spring.
He sought gains this winter and found them.
“I did actually go into this offseason and my velo was the only thing that last year was a little bit down,” said Means, who went 7-9 with a 3.72 ERA last season between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. “Going into the offseason, my main goal was to try and up my velocity a little bit. I came into camp and I’m throwing harder than I ever have thrown in my life.
“It’s exciting and I am starting to see that I can get some strikeouts if I use my fastball to the best of its ability and use the slider and change off of that. Location has never been a problem, but my fastball velocity hasn’t exactly been above par. It’s been very exciting to see.”
Means’ fastball ranged from 93 to 95 mph in his first spring game and was 91 to 94 against New York. He went to the P3 Premier Pitching Performance facility in St. Louis this winter. He said that before this year he had never thrown above 93.
“I went this offseason to a pitching facility and got with a guy and started working on certain things that will make me more efficient down the mound. Started toying with some things and working on that, and it’s nice to see it come to fruition.
“So I got on their program, and it’s something I had never done before. Location has never been a problem in my career, it’s always been (low) velocity. I wanted to gain velocity since I felt I know what I am doing out there with location.”
Over 119 career minor league games, 114 as a starter, Means is 35-41 with an ERA of 3.83. He’s allowed 9.9 hits per nine innings with just 2.04 walks and 7.14 strikeouts. In search of more swing-and-miss stuff, he went to P3 and increased his radar-gun readings. And he’s also finding that, so far, he hasn’t lost any command with the increased velocity.
“It’s been going well,” he said. “I now have some hop on my ball and some deception behind it. Sometimes 93-95 can look even harder (with the hop and deception). In the past, sometimes I got away with 89, 90 mph more than some guys might. I had a good fastball then, according to some hitters, and now I should have an even better one.”
In games at Triple-A only last year he went 6-5 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. In June and July in 11 combined starts for Norfolk, Means was rolling. He was 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA, and over 67 1/3 innings he walked just eight and struck out 63. He made nine quality starts.
With the Orioles in need of healthy arms late last year, Means was called to the majors on Sept. 24 and made his big league debut two days later at Fenway Park. He was home when he was called back to Sarasota and then on to Boston, where he gave up five runs in 3 1/3 innings in a relief appearance. But he got his big league debut out of the way, and he ended 2018 on the major league roster.
“It was pretty crazy, especially how it kind of went down. Being home for two weeks and then being able to come up. It was definitely a cool experience. I got to spend it with my family and everything. Got to meet all the guys, but I know when I got up there it was late in the year and everyone was down a bit in the clubhouse. But it was still exciting for me. I was able to make my childhood dreams come true. So I’ve gone into this season confident and ready to go,” Means said.