John Means continued his 2021 excellence on Friday night in Oakland, allowing just two runs on three hits in seven innings as the Orioles beat the Athletics, 3-2, before 5,777 at Oakland Coliseum.
Means (3-0) allowed two solo home runs, and at one point retired 14 straight batters. Despite his dominance, his ERA actually rose from 1.50 to 1.70.
It was second win over Oakland (16-11) in the past five days. On Sunday, he allowed one run on two hits in 6 1/3 innings. He was asked about the difficulty of facing the same team twice in such a short period.
“You just can’t overthink it,” Means said. “You’ve got to stick with the game plan, stick with reading the hitters’ swings and stick with your gut. I think some guys start to overthink sometimes when they face a lineup fourth, fifth, sixth time in a week.
“I stuck with the same game plan. I liked the changeup last time, and I liked it again today.”
In April, Means has allowed just seven runs on 21 hits in six starts. It was his fourth quality start. In those four starts, he gave up just three runs on nine hits in 27 1/3 innings.
“It feels pretty good, but I don’t want to sit back and look at it,” Means said. “I’d like to keep focusing on game-to-game, start-to-start. I’ve got the Mariners next [on Wednesday], and that’s really all I’m worried about.”
Manager Brandon Hyde praised Means’ performance.
“I thought he located extremely well,” Hyde said. “The pitch mix was there, adding and subtracting, pitching to both sides of the plate, pitching unpredictable, and to face a really good team twice in a week is not easy to do. He made some adjustments tonight to them … That’s a tough lineup to face once, and he does it twice in a week.”
Sean Murphy led off the second with a home run, his fourth, but the Orioles (12-14) took back the lead on back-to-back home runs in the third by Cedric Mullins, his fifth, and Austin Hays, his third, against Mike Fiers (0-1), who was making his season debut.
Means, who threw seven innings for the eighth time in his career, walked one and tied his season high with nine strikeouts.
“I really liked my changeup tonight,” Means said. “I wasn’t a huge fan of my fastball command, to be honest with you. Curveball wasn’t really getting over a whole lot. The slider felt good, too, especially against lefties. I was disappointed with my fastball tonight, but the changeup was the saving grace.”
He gave up a two-out home run to Mitch Moreland, his third, in the seventh, and after Stephen Piscotty grounded out to second, his night was over.
Means’ first baseman, Ryan Mountcastle, enjoyed the experience.
“Pretty easy, you just stand there and he strikes out probably half the batters,” Mountcastle said. “Maybe you’ll have to catch a throw from one of the infielders every now and then, but not very many people get on base, and it’s pretty fun to play behind him.”
Hyde has enjoyed watching Means’ maturity develop.
“I just think he’s completely matured as a major league pitcher, and he’s still continuing to get better,” Hyde said. “He’s got one full year in, and last year was a shortened year. I mean, he doesn’t have a whole lot of major league experience and he’s just improving. He’s improving.
“You’re seeing a pitcher develop at the big league level, and every time out. Last year he was overthrowing, made the adjustment. This year he’s really executing pitches. When he needs to elevate, he elevates. When he needs to dump in a breaking ball he can dump in a breaking ball. He’s still got a changeup. He’s turning into a complete pitcher.”
The Orioles took a 3-1 lead in the fifth on a single by catcher Chance Sisco, a double by shortstop Ramón Urias and an infield out by Mullins.
Reliever Paul Fry recorded two outs in the eighth while walking a batter. Travis Lakins walked one, but retired Jed Lowrie on a fly to Mullins in center to end the inning.
César Valdez, who blew his second save opportunity on Thursday against the New York Yankees, allowed two hits to begin the ninth, but hung on for his sixth save.
“He’s just got moxie and poise and doesn’t seem like any situation rattles him, makes big pitches in spot,” Hyde said. “I pushed him tonight. It was a questionable decision tonight before the game whether he was going to be available, but he told everybody he wants to pitch. It would be nice to score a couple more to give a little bit of breathing room to all of our pitchers.”
The Orioles’ bullpen has a 1.49 ERA in the last 13 games.
Mountcastle had two hits and has hit in five straight, raising his average from .167 to .198.
“I’m starting to feel a little better,” Mountcastle said. “Obviously not the start I wanted to have this year, but I’m taking it day-by-day, and I’m going to keep working hard and keep my head up.”
The Orioles began their six-game West Coast trip with their second consecutive win and are 8-4 on the road.
Notes: Urias broke an 0-for-19 skid. … Second baseman Pat Valaika’s ninth-inning single broke an 0-for-21 slide.. … The Orioles hit consecutive home runs for the second time this year. … Oakland’s Tony Kemp stole a base in the eighth, the first successful stolen base attempt against Sisco this season. He had thrown out the first four runners attempting to steal. … Matt Harvey (2-1, 4.26) will face Jesús Luzardo (1-2, 5.40) on Saturday at 4:07 p.m.