John Means entered the 2022 season with hopes of pitching 200 innings for the Orioles. It could be some time before his count goes beyond eight this year, if it ever does.
Means, Baltimore’s left-handed ace, was placed on the 10-day injured list Friday with a left elbow strain. Manager Brandon Hyde described the ailment as a forearm muscle strain, with the club planning to have Means, 28, undergo further tests beyond the MRI he’s already taken to determine any structural damage in his elbow.
Means exited his start Wednesday with left forearm tightness, often a precursor to elbow injuries, with more significant cases a signal for Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He was supposed to work five or six innings, throwing up to 85 pitches, but he lasted only four innings on 51 pitches before being pulled against the Milwaukee Brewers.
“Losing your opening day starter — we’ll see how long it’s gonna be — but for some time now, it’s going to be hard,” Hyde said. “Need guys to step up. John’s one of the guys that people look up to on our pitching staff, and so to have him out is going to be challenging, but it’s part of the game, and there’s injuries everywhere, and injuries happen to every team, and we just caught a bad break with this one.”
Hyde said the Orioles don’t yet know how they will fill Means’ spot in the rotation, with his next turn scheduled for Tuesday in Oakland. In the meantime, they filled his roster spot by selecting the contract of right-handed reliever Travis Lakins Sr., who posted a 4.36 ERA in 46 appearances for Baltimore over the past two seasons. To open a 40-man roster spot for Lakins, left-hander Kevin Smith, the Orioles’ No. 20 prospect according to Baseball America, was placed on outright waivers and assigned to Triple-A Norfolk. Smith, 24, was one of two minor leaguers Baltimore received from the New York Mets for reliever Miguel Castro at the 2020 trade deadline.
Means allowed three runs across a pair of four-inning outings this season, his second straight as Baltimore’s season-opening starter. He has, by a comfortable margin, been the Orioles’ top pitcher since breaking camp as one of their final roster members in 2019, though he has now spent time on the injured list in each of the past four seasons.
A left shoulder strain cost him time in 2019 and 2021, prompting Means to spend his offseason at a physical therapy facility in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to avoid future flare-ups. In the former of those two seasons, he represented the Orioles in the All-Star Game and was the American League’s runner-up in Rookie of the Year voting. The latter saw him serve as one of baseball’s top pitchers through two months of the year, pitching Baltimore’s first complete-game no-hitter in more than 50 years that May. He was supposed to start Baltimore’s season opener in 2020, only to instead open the year on the IL with arm fatigue.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Means said after Wednesday’s start that he hadn’t previously experienced forearm or elbow issues.
“John’s not a real up and down guy, and I think he’s just trying to stay positive with this whole thing and optimistic,” Hyde said. “But I think he’s handling it fine.”
With Means possibly absent for an extended period of time, Hyde said the Orioles potentially will extend some of their other starters quicker than they intended to coming off a shortened spring training, needing to cover more innings and prevent a bullpen that has performed well to this point from being overused. They will continue to be cautious with Tyler Wells, a converted reliever coming off two lost seasons because of Tommy John surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic, but Jordan Lyles, Bruce Zimmermann and Spenser Watkins — who Hyde said will “probably” remain in the rotation and start Monday — could be pushed in the coming weeks.
“Innings are going to be at a premium,” Hyde said. “We need guys to get starter-type of innings to get through this year.”
Hyde suggested that Keegan Akin and Mike Baumann, two mid-20s starters who have found early-season success as relievers, will stay in those roles despite the newly open rotation spot, in hopes the long-relief roles they’re in now are what suit each of them the best going forward.
It also seems doubtful the Orioles will push either Grayson Rodriguez or Kyle Bradish, their top right-handed pitching prospects, to the majors. Through three starts with Triple-A Norfolk between them, the pair has combined to strike out 21 batters against one walk in 13 innings while allowing two runs, but neither has thrown more than the 67 pitches Rodriguez threw Thursday.
“I think that they’re gonna move the prospects when they’re ready to move the prospects,” Hyde said, “and not determining [by] what our record is or what’s happening here with the major league roster.”