Orioles hold on to beat Reds, 2-1, as Yennier Cano bails out Craig Kimbrel to salvage John Means’ stellar start

CINCINNATI — A little more than two weeks ago, John Means couldn’t even make it out of the first inning in Triple-A.

The veteran left-hander allowed five runs on five hits — two of which were homers — in a minor league rehabilitation game against a team nicknamed the Jumbo Shrimp. The outing raised alarms about whether Means would be inserted back into the rotation when it was time for him to return to Baltimore.

In his season debut Saturday night, Means proved something that didn’t need proving: When he’s healthy, he’s capable of greatness every night he takes the mound. After spending the first five weeks of the season on the injured list, Means reemerged Saturday as a force in Baltimore’s rotation, dominating the Reds to lead the Orioles to a 2-1 victory.

Closer Craig Kimbrel entered with a 2-0 lead in the ninth, hoping to save a shutout for the second straight night. But Kimbrel looked less like the Kimbrel who closed out Friday’s win and more like the Kimbrel who blew two saves against the Oakland Athletics last weekend.

He allowed three of the four batters he faced to reach base, the final on an RBI single Spencer Steer to cut Baltimore’s lead in half. Manager Brandon Hyde brought in sinkerballer Yennier Cano instead of sticking with his veteran closer, and Cano rewarded his manager and bailed out his teammate.

After a walk to load the bases, Cano struck out Christian Encarnacion-Strand for the second out and got Jeimer Candelario to fly out to left field to end the game.

Means dazzled with seven spectacular scoreless innings and eight strikeouts. He needed just 85 pitches to stymie the Reds in a similar fashion as fellow southpaw Cole Irvin did in Friday’s win.

Almost exactly three years ago, Means no-hit the Seattle Mariners in the most iconic start of his seven-year career. His outing Saturday wasn’t quite to that level, as he scattered a measly three hits without a walk, but it’s perhaps been that long since he was this dominant. The 19 swings and misses Means generated are the fourth most in a start in his career. The last time he eclipsed that number was May 5, 2021, when he struck out 12 and totaled 26 whiffs in his no-hitter.

Jorge Mateo and Adley Rutschman provided the offense with solo home runs to left field in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. Baltimore’s pitching staff had gone 20 straight innings without allowing a run and looked poised for its fifth shutout in 13 games before Kimbrel stumbled. Still, the Orioles have allowed two or fewer runs in six straight games for the first time since May 24-30, 1989.

The Orioles are 22-11 and still atop the American League standings.