Oriole starter John Means ended the 2020 season with a loss. However, he could hardly have pitched any better. Only a two-out, sixth-inning home run by Cavan Biggio spoiled Means’ night.
Means had arm fatigue to begin the season and then lost his father to pancreatic cancer on August 7th. His fastball command was missing for a while, but he has been dominant since he regained it.
Biggio’s homer was the only hit Means allowed in six innings in the Orioles’ 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in Buffalo on Saturday night. The Orioles play their final game of the shortened 2020 season on Sunday.
Means walked his second batter, Jonathan Villar, then retired 16 straight until Biggio’s home run. He struck out nine.
In his last four starts, Means pitched 23 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on 12 hits and lowered his ERA from 8.10 to 4.53. In his last two starts, he struck out 21.
“I wish there was 100 games left,” Means said. “It’s been a nice breath of fresh air the last four starts.”
Means’ ability to overcome adversity and finish strong has been impressive.
“I think it was one big learning experience,” Means said. “I experienced a lot of things this season that are pretty tough, and to get through that, and to try to find myself again was a struggle.
“I think it’s going to help me a lot coming into this next season, and the season after that. I was horrible for so long, and to come out of that, and have some success, it’s been huge.”
Manager Brandon Hyde called Means’ performance “an incredible way to end the year. I don’t know if he can pitch much better than he did his last three starts. He’s pitching like a top-of-the rotation guy.”
Hunter Harvey relieved Means in the seventh and gave up a three-run home run to Randal Grichuk, who has 19 home runs and 44 RBIs in 39 games against the Orioles. This year, Grichuk has seven homers and 19 RBIs in nine games against the Orioles. He has 12 home runs overall.
The Orioles scored two runs in the eighth on an RBI double by José Iglesias and a run-scoring single by Ryan Mountcastle, who was tagged out trying for second.
Austin Hays had three hits, and Iglesias had two.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Hays said of Means’ command. “It seems like every single hitter that steps in the box is 0-1, and he’s getting a ton of swings and misses. When he does throw pitches out of the zone, it seems like he gets a ton of chases. This is as dominant as I’ve seen a pitcher these last two starts for him.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. scored a run in the eighth when catcher Pedro Severino was charged with an error when he couldn’t hold on to Tanner Scott’s throw home.
The Orioles’ record is 24-35. Keegan Akin will face Tanner Roark in the final game that will begin at 3:07 p.m.
Elias on infield depth: In his video conference call on Saturday, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that adding to the Orioles’ stock of infielders will remain a priority.
“I think it continues to be. I think infielders are hard to come by,” Elias said. “When I first joined the Orioles at the end of 2018, I looked at what we had, it did seem like there was a deficit of infielders, but a large number of quality outfielders.
“I think that deficit of infielders was mainly owing to the lack of an international pipeline because that’s where a lot of major league infielders are coming from these days.
“We have tried to attack it at the major league level through free agency and the waiver wire. We’ve got some guys we like that are with the team now. We’ve tried to attack it through the last couple of drafts and also a couple of trades. We’ve gotten the international free-agent spigot flowing now. Hopefully, long-term, that will fortify our infield depth, but it’s like pitching. It’s one of those areas where everyone is always looking for more.”
Elias on minor leagues: The Orioles are trying to find a way to get their minor leaguers, particularly ones who weren’t part of the Bowie alternate site, some competition. Perhaps they’ll be able gather in Sarasota, Florida sometime soon.
“I don’t have anything to announce, but Instructional League is certainly something that a lot of teams are advancing and it’s on our wish list,” Elias said.
“We’re really careful in this environment when we’re planning something like that and until we’ve really got a plan that we’re ready to talk about, we won’t, but I’m hopeful to get more of a player development experience in the 2020 calendar year, especially for some of the guys who weren’t able to go to Bowie.”
Elias on DJ Stewart: DJ Stewart continues to struggle. He was hitless in four at-bats Saturday, and is 2-for-24. His average has slid to .190.
Elias says Stewart, who also has struggled on defense, can do better.
“I was glad that after [Anthony] Santander’s injury that we were able to give DJ an extended run,” Elias said. “I think we learned a lot about what he needs to work on. Brandon and I just talked to him at length. There’s a lot of things that we saw this season that we were excited about it, and we have a clear plan for him this offseason in some areas of work. DJ Stewart’s a first-round pick, and we saw his ability this year in flashes. We want to see that not in flashes next year.”