Miami Marlins reliever Richard Bleier, who pitched for the Orioles from 2017-2020, says John Means’ ascension as a high-level big-league starter is made better by Means’ humility, which Bleier noticed as Means began gaining notoriety in 2019.
Means was first called up to the big leagues in September 2018, but Bleier wasn’t with the team at the time because he had suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Bleier and Means were teammates in 2019 and 2020 before Bleier was traded to the Marlins last August.
As such, Bleier got to see Means go from a little-known camp arm during spring training in 2019 to an All-Star later that year.
“He’s handled it really well,” Bleier said on Glenn Clark Radio April 21. “He was going so well and you could just tell he had no idea what he was doing, and I don’t think it sunk in until a lot later — the All-Star Game and all that. It’s nice to see that, whereas people [sometimes have] this blind confidence and cockiness and haven’t really done anything. He did so much and then you could tell, I don’t think he quite realized how good he was and what he was doing for a while.”
Means has been one of the top starting pitchers in baseball this year, posting a 1.50 ERA with 29 strikeouts and nine walks in 30 innings (five starts) thus far. He has allowed more than one run in a start just once during his last nine starts dating back to September 2020.
Means, who was picked by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of West Virginia, moved up Baltimore’s minor-league system slowly until he made his big-league debut at Fenway Park in 2018. He then remade himself at a St. Louis-based pitching facility and dove headfirst into new-age technology and analytics.
Means made the big-league club out of spring training in 2019 as a long reliever. He made his first outing of the season three games in, throwing 3.1 innings of one-run ball and striking out five against the Yankees. During the outing he broke out his new changeup, which he tweaked with the help of Chris Holt, then the minor-league pitching coordinator and now the big-league pitching coach.
“He came in to mop up a game against the Yankees at one point and had like a thousand swings and misses on his changeup,” Bleier said. “It was just incredible. He went from nobody to John Means in that one game. He just went through this lineup and he put a guy on the DL with his changeup. It was incredible to see.”
Shortly after that outing, Means slid into the Orioles’ rotation and became one of the team’s bright spots during a 55-win campaign. He finished with a 3.60 ERA in 155 innings (31 games, 27 starts) and represented the Orioles in the 2019 All-Star Game. He got off to a rough start during the shortened 2020 season but turned it around late in the year.
By then, Bleier was pitching in South Florida, but he was thrilled to see Means continue to develop.
“He’s only gotten better and better where he’s pitched with a changeup a lot and was really successful,” Bleier said. “And as the league adjusted to his pitch, he got ahead of it and developed his breaking balls much more and made his fastball better. Now he’s really the complete pitcher and it shows in the results.”
Bleier touched on some other topics, including …
On what it’s been like pitching for his hometown team (Bleier is a Miami Beach, Fla., native):
“My family has come, which is great. My parents had never seen an Opening Day, so that was cool for them to catch that. It’s just been really nice being at home and being around family. It’s tough to be away for six or seven months throughout the year, so that aspect has been enjoyable so far. … There is something to say about going to somewhere and just dealing with work and only work and baseball. It’s just my whole career it’s been, ‘OK, home is home and then it’s time to go play baseball.’ Now that I’m home, I’m still home and playing, so it’s been an adjustment. I don’t say it’s a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. It’s a different thing to get used to.”
On what it was like pitching in the playoffs in 2020:
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in the playoffs. My first year in ’17 we were kind of competitive with the Orioles but never really had enough and we were kind of just a .500 team there. So it wasn’t really like I’ve experienced competitive September baseball where every game really counted for something. I think that last year, it was a ton of fun. It’s a different kind of game. Inevitably, when you’re on those [struggling] teams, you just can’t help but play for yourself. It’s unfortunate to say out loud, but if your team is losing 100 games, you’ve got to have some kind of motivation. You’re out there doing it for next year or whatever you’re doing it for. And then all the sudden I came to the Marlins and it’s, ‘Wow, we’re playing to win and it doesn’t really matter how you do it as long as you help the team win.'”
On Marlins Rule 5 reliever and former Orioles prospect Zach Pop:
“I think I did a rehab assignment in 2019 when he was in Double-A. I remembered him immediately when the Marlins got him. His ability and his pitches and just his pure stuff really stood out in my mind as electric. Then he got hurt and that kind of set him back, and then obviously with COVID he missed almost two full years of playing. But he showed up at camp and he looked really good, especially for a guy who hasn’t pitched in a couple years, as you could imagine. Pitching in the big leagues is hard. Pitching in the big leagues and putting pressure on yourself to perform in the big leagues is a lot harder. I don’t know if he’s doing that. I just think inevitably everybody does. Until you can finally relax and kind of just get in a groove, it’s very challenging in the beginning for everyone.”
For more from Bleier, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox