Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher John Means is not lighting up radar guns around the big leagues, but the former West Virginia University standout is becoming a bright spot in an otherwise dim season at Camden Yards.
Means, an 11th-round pick by Baltimore in 2014, was an All-Big 12 honorable mention selection that slowly made the climb up the Orioles’ minor league ladder over the course of the last few seasons.
Last August he made his Major League debut and this season he broke out of spring training with the big league club. The 6-foot-3 lefty appeared in four games out of the Baltimore bullpen early in the season, but over the last few weeks he’s been in the O’s starting rotation. While the club continues to be among the worst in the league, Means has become one of Baltimore’s more reliable pitchers.
Monday’s start was unquestionably the best of his so-far short Major League career, especially when you consider who it came against.
Means pitched the Orioles to a 4-1 win against the defending world champion Red Sox. He didn’t overpower Boston — that’s not his style — but he kept the Red Sox off balance and off the base paths to the tune of three hits and one run over seven innings as Baltimore picked up just its 13th win of the season.
So how did Means, a player who was always good but never flashed much potential as a top-line big league starting pitcher, make this leap so fast? Look to his most recent offseason — that’s when he developed what has become one of the best, if not the best, changeups in the game.
New Orioles general manager Mike Elias plucked Chris Holt from the Houston Astros to be Baltimore’s minor league pitching coordinator after the 2018 season. Means worked with Holt and personal instructor Austin Meine to develop the changeup and so far it has been a difference maker.
They utilized technology to dig into Means’ mechanics using high-speed cameras and radar to get instant feedback as they worked. They were able to identify Means’ changeup as a strong pitch and got to work getting the most out of it.
“That was a big focal point for us, honestly, being able to see what his ball actually does, and that let him have the understanding of how to use his repertoire has been huge,” Meine told the Baltimore Sun last month. “We could see pretty quickly that the changeup was a pitch that has a lot of depth to it, arm-side movement, and played out as a plus pitch. Now, it’s more developing a game plan for, ‘How can we use our repertoire to set that pitch up and make it more effective?’ ”
It’s a long season and a bad team, and of course it’s baseball so nothing is certain. Means’ fortune could turn as spring turns to summer, but if Baltimore’s surprise starter can keep it up he won’t be a surprise for much longer.
Last weekend wasn’t great for the WVU baseball team, but the run it was on was bound to hit a bump in the road at some point.
The Mountaineers entered the weekend winners of five consecutive Big 12 series with TCU making the trip to the Mountain State.
The Horned Frogs got to Mountaineer star pitcher Alek Manoah, at least more than anyone else had the last month, before chasing that hard-throwing professional prospect from the mound and blowing open Friday’s game for a lopsided win. TCU took the Saturday game and the series, bringing that streak to an end for WVU.
Sunday looked to be more of the same before a rally in the bottom of the ninth was capped off by a Darius Hill walk-off home run to steal a win in the series finale. The losses dropped WVU to No. 21 in the college baseball RPI list, but it was telling how much respect this Mountaineer team has earned with its play this season from the pollsters. WVU was ranked as high as No. 17 in the various college baseball polls last week, and despite the lopsided losses remained ranked this week. Perfect Game has WVU at No. 20 with the other polls having West Virginia as high as No. 21 and as low as No. 23.
The losses certainly didn’t aid WVU’s case for hosting an NCAA regional tournament, but don’t discount the respect West Virginia is earning throughout the sport with its play this season. The Mountaineers have eight games remaining before the Big 12 tournament — Wednesday at Virginia Tech, a weekend series at Kansas State, next week against rival Pitt at PNC Park in Pittsburgh then three at home against George Washington to close the regular season. Success in those games plus a decent showing in Oklahoma City could, and should, have West Virginia back on track to not just make the NCAA tournament as either a conference champion — which is very much in play — or with an at-large bid, but as a possible host for the regional round.