CLEARWATER, Fla. - Left-hander John Means is looking ready for opening day already. He’ll have several spring outings yet to go, but today he buzzed through a frontline Phillies lineup, recording nine straight outs in a three-inning outing.
Means had one web gem behind him. Bryce Harper hit a hard grounder wide of first in the opening inning. First baseman Stevie Wilkerson made a diving stop to the backhand side and tossed to Means covering the bag.
Means needed just 41 pitches and threw 24 strikes. He fanned two, got two groundouts, three popups and two flyouts. He’s the first Orioles starter to go three this spring.
“Not too bad,” Means said. “It was all right. My fastball command wasn’t there that well. My changeup was kind of my get out of jail free card. It was one of those outings where I fell behind a lot, but the changeup was an eqaulizer. Just need to make sure everything was sharp and everything kind of got better as the game went on. Felt the curveball was better shaped later on, felt like the changeup was there and the heater got better, especially on inside pitches.”
Means did that versus a Phillies team (6-2-1) that has scored 60 runs in their nine games. Philadelphia began today leading the majors in team batting average (.300) and OPS (.866), with the Orioles second in OPS at .839.
He faced a lineup that featured several Phillies regulars including Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Didi Gregorius.
“It’s nice facing those guys and facing a team I hadn’t faced yet,” Means said. “I faced Hoskins coming up, Didi too with the Yankees. But it’s nice getting some feedback from guys I haven’t faced before.”
If Means pitches every fifth day from here on out, he is in line to face the Yankees on opening day March 26 in Baltimore.
“I actually haven’t looked that far ahead. I’m sure some people have. But I’m just focused on the next outing to be honest,” Means said.
As for the offense today, the Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the second on an unearned run. Versus Phillies lefty Ranger Suárez, Rio Ruiz led off with a booming double to deep left. That made him 8-for-13 this spring. He advanced to a third on a line single to center by Dilson Herrera and then scored on an E8.
The lead was extended to 3-0 in fourth. Ruiz led off with a solo homer to left and he’s now 9-for-14 through that at-bat. Herrera followed with a double and later scored on Wilkerson’s RBI single for the three-run lead. Ruiz lined a single to right in the fifth and is 3-for-3 on the day.
Right-hander Thomas Eshelman came on after Means and retired six up through the fourth and fifth. Through the last of the fifith, O’s pitching had a perfect game going.
Final notes and quotes after O’s win: Josh Harrison led off the Phillies sixth with a solo homer to end Baltimore’s perfect game bid. The Orioles pitched a three-hitter in a 3-2 win. They have won five in a row to get to 6-4 in the Grapefruit League.
The Phillies scored a run and had bases loaded with two outs in the ninth when Cole Sulser was replaced by 34-year-old righty César Valdez. He got a three-pitch strikeout of Deivy Grullon to earn a save and end this one.
Ruiz on his hot hitting: “I think it is me minimizing my approach and having one plan up there. That is helping a lot. I’m just trying to stick with that. Coming into spring I just wanted to barrel as many balls as I can.”
Ruiz on feeling comfortable with team after playing all last year: “I feel comfortable with the club, absolutely. You know there is still work to be done. I still have to win a job. I’m just doing my best right now to do that.”
Ruiz on one thing this winter he felt he had to get better at: “Yeah, consistently hitting the ball hard. I think last year I went through stretches where I did do that. Then I followed it up with stretches of 1-3s (grounders to mound) and 3Us (grounders to first). So went into that with that mindset and working with things that will get me to a position to do that. The results are a byproduct of the work you put in. There will need to be a lot of adjustments made during the season and I’m looking forward to making those.”
Manager Brandon Hyde was impressed that Valdez nailed down the last out.
“I’ve actually been hearing quite a bit about him. I didn’t see him pitch against Boston (when he fanned four in two scoreless). Everybody was real impressed with his stuff. He did a great job. I thought Sulser threw the ball great before that. We kind of gave them an extra out there and had a tough time finishing it. Nice to see a guy come up in a 3-2 game, bases loaded and get a strikeout on three pitches. Pretty cool.”
Hyde also talked about Means’ solid day.
“He had a really good changeup. Nine up and down. For me it might have been a tick off with his fastball, but it was still really good. Once again he is still working on the breaking ball that showed well again today. But the changeup, he got a lot of bad swings and guys out in front on it. Tom Eshelman threw the ball well. Threw a changeup that they got a little bit. Throwing the ball really, really well and I like the way he worked ahead in the count.”
Hyde is not getting carried away with a five-game win streak in spring training. He continues to say how the team plays is more important than the final result.
“What means a lot to me and the most to me is how we play. The style with which we play. How our at-bats are. How we look on the mound. It is much more fun to win than lose in anything you do, but I’m really happy with how we’re playing the last five days. I think we’re getting better.”
Attendance in Clearwater was 7,966.