Means exits start vs. Crew with left forearm tightness

April 14th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- John Means entered the 2022 season with sights set on durability. Not only for his own sake -- he’s eclipsed 150 innings just once in his career -- but knowing the responsibility that comes as the Orioles' staff ace without a proven cavalry behind him.

But an unfortunate recurrence has now played out. Means exited his start Wednesday against the Brewers -- a 4-2 rubber-match loss at Camden Yards -- after just four innings and 51 pitches with left forearm tightness. The club and Means are hopeful it’s just a small blip on a long season, but further testing will reveal the exact extent of the injury.

“It's frustrating, for sure,” Means said. “I just want to get rolling, I wanted to start the season strong. It's a long season, and we'll get this out of the way, get going. Still confident I'm able to go.”

Means is slated to receive an MRI on Thursday or Friday, and said he could test out the arm again “in a few days” should nothing of concern arise. The hope is that he has a muscular injury, though making his next turn in the rotation is not quite a given.

“I'm not going to rush to anything until we know what the results are,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “Staying positive with it and optimistic, and hopefully it's just a little bit of tightness he felt in the forearm. We'll see.”

Means said he felt his forearm flare up in his last outing, coming on a curveball he threw against the Rays on Opening Day. The days that followed showed improvement, and Means said his warmup and first two innings on Wednesday were unhampered. But a curveball he threw in the third -- an inning in which he threw four -- caused another flareup, and by the time he made it through the fourth inning on just 51 pitches, it was impacting all his pitches.

A conversation with the training staff resulted in a quick exit for Means and quicker entrance for Joey Krehbiel, prompting an unplanned bullpen game that held firm until the Brewers rallied in the ninth. The bigger concern all along was Means.

Means has landed on the injured list in each of the last three seasons with varying arm and shoulder ailments, but never has he dealt with any sort of forearm injury.

“Never felt the forearm before,” Means said. “It's always been little things in the shoulder. I’ve never felt it, and that's what worried me a little bit. But they reassured me that it's just muscle.”

Perhaps peculiar about Means’ night was that his velocity never took a precipitous dive. His velocity in his final frame was a tick lower, but nothing overly glaring. A possible red flag is that his hardest-thrown pitch on Wednesday was 92.6 mph -- almost 2 mph lower than his maximum in his first start Friday, though he threw a pitch over 94 mph just once that outing.

The Orioles had hoped Means could work deeper against the Brewers, aiming for five or six innings in the 85-pitch range after he tallied 84 pitches against the Rays. Baltimore exerted caution with the left-hander this spring, opting to throw him once in a backfield setting as opposed to Grapefruit League action, with circumstances like Wednesday in mind.

Means was hesitant to blame his injury on the shortened Spring Training.

Any sort of prolonged period without Means would cause a cascading impact on the pitching staff. Means is joined by Jordan Lyles as the lone experienced arms in the rotation. The O’s had an open competition in spring for spots Nos. 3-5 in their rotation, two of which were won by Tyler Wells and Bruce Zimmermann. The fifth remains plug-and-play, and now possibly the first might be, too.

There are some options, either currently rostered players in the bullpen who are stretched out to a starter’s workload or others at Triple-A Norfolk. Should Means miss any time, they’d be asked to fill the role of a pitcher who’s taken on a vocal leadership position as much as leading through his pitching.

A little worried because that's our number one guy out there,” infielder Ramón Urías said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “When you see him go down, it's never a good thing, but we still don't really know what's going on, what's really happening. We’re not scared or anything like that. Just hoping for the best right now.”