In discussing the Orioles’ trade deadline decisions Friday, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he never intended to get “very serious” in trade discussions regarding left-hander John Means.
A day later, Means showed why the Orioles value him so much. In a 5-2 victory over the host Detroit Tigers, he went six innings, with a solo home run accounting for all the damage against him.
Means had allowed nine earned runs over 11 2/3 innings in his first two starts after spending six weeks on the injured list with a left shoulder strain, though he pitched into the seventh in the latter and was mostly done in by a three-run home run. Saturday, he looked back in the form he carried early in the year, with the Orioles (37-66) overcoming Eric Haase’s homer with one from Maikel Franco and a three-run burst in the sixth provided by a Detroit error.
With his 10th start of at least six innings, Means gave Baltimore six such outings in their past 12 games after they had 16 through their first 91 contests. He did so throwing his signature change-up more than any other offering. He got seven swinging strikes with the pitch, his most since his May 5 no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners. He also stayed away from his slider and used his curveball as his primary breaking ball, upping its usage by about 10% from his average entering the start.
It was on a first-pitch elevated fastball that Haase took him deep to tie the game in the fourth after, an inning earlier, Cedric Mullins singled, stole second and scored on Ryan Mountcastle’s bloop hit. Means settled in from there to lower his ERA to 2.84, but homers have done much of the damage against him this year, with 22 of the 28 runs he has allowed coming on long balls.
Behind Means, Paul Fry and Dillon Tate each pitched a scoreless inning before manager Brandon Hyde turned to left-hander Tanner Scott, looking for a bounceback outing. Scott faced four Tigers on Friday and retired none of them, but all he got out of Saturday’s appearance was an extension of that streak, hitting the first batter before issuing two walks. In the series, Scott’s ERA has risen from 3.07 to 3.95.
Hyde tasked Cole Sulser with getting the final three outs for the second straight night, and he delivered them, recording a run-scoring groundout and two strikeouts.
Maik-ing it happen
Franco entered the year as a trade candidate, largely because he was on a one-year deal with a team that was expected to be a seller at the deadline. But between health and performance, he didn’t generate enough interest to be moved to a contender.
But perhaps Saturday could represent the start of a productive final stretch with Baltimore. He sent a fastball up out of the zone from Tigers rookie Matt Manning out to left to break a tie in the fifth.
When he came up again with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth, Franco and the Orioles caught a break. Tigers shortstop Zack Short fielded Franco’s grounder, but second baseman Willi Castro couldn’t cleanly catch his throw for the force at second, allowing Mountcastle to score from third. Pat Valaika followed with a two-run single.