O’s unlikely All-Star takes the field in Cleveland tonight

Orioles lefty John Means will take the field tonight representing the club in the All-Star Game. Means is certainly an unlikely All-Star. He himself expressed surprise that he even made the Orioles’ opening day roster.

But the Orioles started giving Means the ball, he excelled early in the season against the Yankees and Red Sox, and he was off and running. Five of his first nine appearances this year came against the two American League East big boys. He allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings over three relief outings against the Yankees. He gave up two runs in 12 frames in two starts versus Boston.

Means-Delivers-White-Sidebar.jpgMeans is a homegrown O’s pitcher - drafted in round 11 in 2014 - and now he might be the poster boy for any overlooked pitcher in the O’s farm system. Baseball America never ranked Means among the Orioles’ top 30 prospects. But that won’t keep him out of the All-Star Game tonight.

The message is there for every O’s minor league pitcher: You don’t need to be a ranked or hyped prospect to make the majors or even the All-Star team. Means’ success should motivate every pitcher on the O’s farm right now, especially those not considered prospects.

“I hope so,” said Means. “I’m sure guys are on the farm grinding, just trying to get their way to the next level. Hopefully, I can set an example that this is not that far away.

“I know coming up through the minors you watch these games on TV and you look up and put the Orioles’ players on a pedestal. You almost look at this as a fairy-tale land, like it’s not real, until you get here. Then you see it’s baseball, 60 feet, six inches from the mound and 90-feet bases. And it is real. It’s just the game, you just have to be a little more precise and there is more at stake.”

Means is 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA and 1.077 WHIP. He has allowed just 7.3 hits per nine innings. Over his last six starts, he is 2-0 with a 1.85 ERA and has allowed a slash line of .202/.250/.306.

“I’m very excited to get (to Cleveland) and do all the events,” Means said in Toronto over the weekend. “I know it will probably be a whirlwind and it will probably be a hectic time, but it will be a lot of fun. My family is coming in town and my fiancée will be there. Should be really good.”

What is Means most looking forward to in Cleveland?

“Just kind of the environment,” he said. “I think it will be a really cool experience to be around a bunch of guys that have had such very, very solid careers. This is their sixth, seventh, eighth All-Star game. Just to be around those guys and pick their brains a little bit.”

Means has thrown his four-seam fastball 53 percent of the time this year, at an average velocity of 92.3 mph. He throws his changeup 28 percent at 81 mph and also works in his slider (15 percent) and curveball (four percent). As the season went on, Means worked his breaking pitches more into the mix so hitters could not just look fastball or changeup.

“The changeup has definitely helped me stay here for sure,” he said. “There have been some other factors. I think I’ve cleaned up my motion somewhat from previous years. I have a game plan of what I need to do as far as my motion during the game. There is something I can go to every outing to keep myself in line.”

Maybe there is a message to be learned here in that Means was the opposite of a rushed prospect. He pitched in the minors for five years and more than 600 innings. He spent parts of both 2015 and 2016 at Single-A Frederick and was with Double-A Bowie for parts of three seasons from 2016-2018. There is a lot of pride throughout the Orioles organization that he’s an All-Star, and Means said he’s still learning and growing this year at the major league level.

“Every game there has been some sort of learning curve that I go through as I try to be the best I can. I’ve learned from other pitchers on the team, and batters. Learn what certain teams do against me and try to keep those going awhile.”

Yep, he has kept it going. And it’s taken him all the way to the big game tonight in Cleveland.

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