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Which young pitchers could be the Orioles’ next John Means?

John Means forced his way into the Orioles rotation by pitching well in relief. Several other pitchers will have a chance to follow his lead this year in Baltimore.

Baltimore Orioles v Chicago White Sox Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Orioles current crop of starting pitchers leaves a lot to be desired. Starters have failed to work deep into games, and are surrendering home runs at a record setting pace. The struggles on the mound have hardly come as a surprise, but the arms have failed to meet even realistic expectations thus far.

Alex Cobb has already made multiple trips to the Injured List, and has not had an opportunity to replicate his promising second half in 2018. Nate Karns has been hurt, Dylan Bundy is still giving up home runs at an alarming rate, and Dan Straily has been, well, Dan Straily.

You all know this. If you’re taking the time to read this, you’ve probably watched the Orioles enough to know that there is no ace up their sleeve or in their rotation. You likely know that Baltimore’s bullpen has pitched the most innings of any team in the league, and that they have not fared much better.

John Means has been lauded as a pleasant surprise this year, and rightfully so. The lefty did not begin the season in the Orioles rotation, but forced his way into the conversation and eventually became a fixture. Means currently holds a 3-3 record with a 2.81 ERA. He’s started four of the eight games he’s pitched.

Means, who broke camp this year with the Orioles as a reliever, made his first start for Baltimore on April 9. He only pitched 3.1 innings, but allowed five runs. Only one of the five runs were earned, and Means settled in after that. In his next three starts, Means worked five innings in all three contests. He took a tough loss in a shutout against Boston April 14, before picking up his third win of the year April 24 against Chicago.

Means came back down to earth his last time out against the White Sox. He doubled his earned run total on the season by allowing four runs on six hits. The lefty surrendered two home runs in a game for the first time, and struck out only two batters. And that’s okay.

Means faced the same team that he pitched against only five days prior. The rookie from Olathe, Kansas, must learn the cat-and-mouse adjustments that come from facing a team back-to-back, just like he’s learning how to face a lineup multiple times in one game. This year is all about development, and Means will hit a few bumps in the road this year.

That being said, Means has provided a template for young pitchers in the Orioles organization to follow. Some thought he may have only made the Opening Day roster because he was left handed, but he took advantage of every opportunity that came his way. He’s currently the only starter worth getting excited about, and that’s not just because he’s the new kid in town.

The Orioles showed with Means that a player does not need to be stretched out in the minors to join the rotation. Manager Brandon Hyde originally said the Orioles would shift Means back and forth from the ‘pen and the rotation, but the other starters haven’t left him much of a choice. Means threw over 90 pitches in his last two starts, so a sixth inning was out of the question, but a quality start seems to be the next step for the former West Virginia Mountaineer.

So who could follow in Means’s footsteps? The Orioles recalled Yefry Ramirez earlier this week and stashed him in the bullpen. Ramirez did not allow a run in his first three starts at Triple-A Norfolk, before giving up three in his final start for the Tides. He did strike out nine batters in his last start at Norfolk.

Ramirez, who flashed potential with the Orioles last season but ultimately struggled in 12 starts, tossed 1.1 relief innings Monday night. With two on, two out, and one of the hottest hitters at the plate in Tim Anderson, Ramirez came up with a big 3-2 pitch. Anderson popped a ball into foul territory, but Hanser Alberto dropped the third out. Ramirez showed great poise, buckled down, and struck out Anderson with the very next pitch.

Obviously one inning doesn’t put a guy in the same conversation as Means, but Ramirez could benefit from the new faces in the Orioles clubhouse. He also was the only starter pitching well at Norfolk so far this year. Keegan Akin and Josh Rogers could both use a little more seasoning, but could find their way to Baltimore at some point this year. Luis Ortiz did not make an appearance during his one-day stay on the 25-man roster.

Gabriel Ynoa could also be a candidate to follow in Means’s footsteps. The 25-year-old has only allowed one run in three relief appearances this season. Ynoa made his first appearance for the Orioles on April 22, and worked 3.1 innings his last time out. He keeps the ball on the ground, and appears ready to take a step forward. He appeared in nine games for Baltimore in 2017. He started four, and finished with a 2-3 record and a 4.15 ERA.

The majority of the Orioles top pitching prospects are still a few years away from contributing at the Major League level. While this fits the timeline of the club’s long term rebuild, there’s still a season to be played this year. While DL Hall, Grayson Rodriguez and Zac Lowther continue to develop, guys like Ramirez and Ynoa must fill the gaps. Akin and Rogers should get a look at some point, and they’ll all look to follow Means’s lead.