John Means said that he had known for some time that he was going to be the Orioles’ Opening Day starter. But spring training was halted on March 12 before it became official. Still, no one was surprised when manager Brandon Hyde announced that Means would face the Boston Red Sox on July 24 at Fenway Park when the Orioles begin their 60-game 2020 season.
“Up until I get told that I’m Opening Day I just assumed that I was fighting for a job,” Means said in a video conference on Saturday.
“I kind of like that mentality. I like to keep that back-against-the-wall mentality and just never get comfortable. I’m constantly trying to get better. Until I’m told for sure, and it’s in writing, and he tells me face-to-face, I’m going to assume I’m fighting for a job.”
Means didn’t think he’d make the Orioles in 2019, let alone make the All-Star team and finish second in voting for the American League Rookie of the Year after going 12-11 with a 3.60 ERA.
“Sometimes I have to sit back and tell myself and pinch myself a little bit that this is real and this is happening,” Means said. “I’m the Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles, and if you would have told me that two years ago, I would have laughed in your face.”
Two years ago, Means was a struggling starter at Triple-A Norfolk called up by the Orioles in the last week of the 2018 season because they were short on arms.
Means, 27, was an 11th-round draft pick of the Orioles in 2014 and made the long climb to the big leagues.
“My motivation is to keep playing a child’s game for as long as I possibly can,” he said.
“The last thing that I want is to have to get a real job, and who wouldn’t want to play baseball for a living? Who wouldn’t want this job? Who wouldn’t want to keep doing this for as long as they possibly can? A guy I always looked up to when I was growing up was Jamie Moyer. The guy pitched until he was .
“Guys like that, that’s who I strive to be. That’s who I wanted to be. I wanted to play this game for as long as I can. That’s my motivation. You might as well wait until they rip the jersey off your back.”
This Opening Day will be strange. It won’t be against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park, which was the original schedule. Instead, it will be in Fenway Park without fans.
“I think I’ll just approach it like any other game,” Means said. “I think that I was doing to that either way. It’s going to be different. It’s going to weird. That first game is going to feel so weird having someone with another uniform in the box with no fans in the stands, but I think it helps us.
“We’re going to have a bunch of energy going into it. I think it’s going to have that feel of being a real Opening Day.”
Alberto Hits Away: Like Means, Hanser Alberto was also considered a long shot to make the Orioles in 2019.
Alberto, 27, was given his first extended chance in the major leagues last year and finished eighth in batting in the American League with a .305 average.
Without Trey Mancini, out for the season after surgery for colon cancer, Alberto knows he and others will have to pick up the slack.
“We miss Trey, but we’ve got some good hitters here,” Alberto said. “I think they can do a really job. We miss him, and we want to have him in the lineup because we know what he represents.
“I will try and do my job and do what I can do and let the other guys do their job, too … I think on the 24th we’ll be ready.”
Shortly after Alberto returned to his home in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic, the city was put on quarantine and remained in that state for a month-and-a-half, making it impossible for him to hit.
After the city reopened, Alberto was able to face live pitching.
Alberto said he misses the usual interaction with teammates.
“I’m a guy who’s always close with them, tries to joke around and give them some touches and stuff,” Alberto said. “I can’t do that anymore … Hopefully, we can go back to the high-fives and stuff.”
No word on Santander, Smith: Outfielders Anthony Santander and Dwight Smith Jr. haven’t been seen on the field during any of the workouts or intrasquad games, which began on July 3.
With Opening Day 12 days away, Hyde said he wasn’t sure that they would have enough time to be ready on July 24.
“It’s going to be challenging,” Hyde said. “I don’t know. To get somebody ready for Opening Day, I have no idea, to be honest with you. I don’t know.”
According to MLB.com, the Orioles have expressed interest in free-agent outfielder Yasiel Puig.
Intrasquad wrap: Rio Ruiz hit a two-run homer, his second home run in as many nights, as the white jersey Orioles beat the orange Orioles, 3-0, on Saturday night.
Ruiz’s homer scored DJ Stewart, whose double brought home Austin Hays. The three runs were scored against Kohl Stewart.
Wade LeBlanc pitched five scoreless innings.
Catcher Taylor Davis, outfielder Cedric Mullins and catcher Adley Rutschman, whose additions to the player pool were announced on Friday, played for the first time. Rutschman walked twice and grounded out.
Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Hunter Harvey and Cesar Valdez also pitched.
Martin injured: Infielder Richie Martin has a broken bone in his right wrist. He was hurt diving back into first base in Friday night’s intrasquad game. It’s not known how long Martin will be sidelined.
Left-handed pitcher Ty Blach will seek a second opinion on his injured elbow.
Dillon Tate’s right forearm is sore. He is day-to-day.