Orioles manager Brandon Hyde made the obvious official on Friday when he named John Means the Opening Day starter. Hyde had Means lined up to start the April 1st game against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park since the start of the Grapefruit League season.
The left-hander was supposed to start last year’s delayed opener on July 24th at Fenway but was scratched because of arm fatigue.
Means, 27, had a challenging season, especially in dealing with the death of his father, but had a strong September. He finished 2-4 with a 4.53 ERA in 10 starts.
“I gave him the news a couple of days ago,” Hyde said. “Very excited, and I’m excited to announce that he’s our starter for that day.”
Means will oppose Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez.
“He told me he was going to make it this time,” Hyde said about Means. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed. He was happy to hear the news from me. It’s a special moment to give great news to players. That’s something that guys hold dear, to be able to be the Opening Day starter.
“He can say he did it for the rest of his life. Proud moment for him, and everything he dealt with last year. He is a high-character guy, and we felt for him. He has definitely earned it.”
When Hyde became manager for the 2019 season, Means was a fringe prospect. He’d pitched just one major league game, making his debut at Fenway on September 26, 2018 because the team ran out of pitchers.
Means impressed the Orioles during spring training in 2019 and became the team’s All-Star representative. He finished second in voting for the American League Rookie of the Year with a 12-11 record and a 3.60 ERA.
“The story has been well documented,” Hyde said. “From somebody that was an organizational-type player and worked his way all the way through the minor leagues and got a big league opportunity.
“Really solidifying himself as a really good starter in our league and in our tough division and then bouncing back last year from dealing with a lot of adversity on the field and off the field to finish the season strong, and having a really good spring training this year.”
Means has a 5.40 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts. On Wednesday night, he allowed a run in four innings against Atlanta.
“He’s very well-liked in our clubhouse for a lot of reasons,” Hyde said. “He’s a big part of our club. It was a good feeling to let him know he was going to start.”
Hyde acknowledged that Means didn’t stand out when he took the job.
“Gosh, I didn’t know much about him,” he said. “I thought he had a decent spring training that first year.”
After Means did well in a start against the New York Yankees in Tampa, he got Hyde’s attention.
Means got his first major league win on March 31st at Yankee Stadium, pitching 3 1/3 innings. After two more relief appearances, he was inserted into the starting rotation.
“He has come a long way,” Hyde said. “He’s really turning into a true starter with a four-pitch mix now. The curveball, he’s getting some swings and misses on. He’s got a slider. The changeup was something that he struggled finding last year. He found it late. He’s been throwing it well this year. He’s been locating his fastball. Those are the ingredients for John.”
Means’ improvement has been noted.
“Those few years in the minor leagues that I did catch him, you could always tell that he had good stuff,” catcher Chance Sisco said. “A couple of years ago, the velo obviously jumped, which made such a huge difference from his fastball and his changeup. That’s taken him to the next step. He’s grown on that and become a really, really good pitcher in this league. He’s continually trying to build and make his stuff better.”
NOTE: Hyde said that Félix Hernández, who left Tuesday’s game because of discomfort in his right elbow, is feeling better.
“We’re still monitoring him,” Hyde said. “Still day-to-day, but he is feeling better today.”
Hernández won’t make his next scheduled start.