BALTIMORE -- The Orioles are remaining optimistic on the prognosis for John Means. The left-hander himself hopes there’s a chance he can throw to test out his left forearm within a few days of leaving Wednesday’s loss to the Brewers after just four innings, assuming MRI scans don’t show any cause for concern. A stint on the injured list is to be determined.
But it’s hard to ignore the reality that the Orioles were already facing a dearth of innings-eaters as it stood. They have just two proven starters in the rotation, and that will trim to just Jordan Lyles if Means misses any prolonged stretch of time.
Baltimore has already asked for 29 1/3 innings from its relievers through six games, sixth most in the Majors.
“We’re ready for an off-day,” manager Brandon Hyde said on Wednesday. “We've had a couple bad breaks. … The off-day game is coming at the right time.”
The Orioles do have some options for innings going forward, without or without Means, both at the Major League level and in the Minors:
Likelihood to be called upon: 8/10
Aiding Watkins’ cause is that he’s already had his contract selected to the Major League level, making his season debut in Tuesday’s loss to the Brewers. So there’s little shifting that would have to be done to make room for him; he appears to be the de facto fifth starter as things stand. He’ll just need to work past some 2021 struggles as well as some rough defensive incidences in his first outing this season.
Akin has had a wholly impressive start to the season, abating past control issues with 5 2/3 scoreless frames across two long-relief outings, striking out four batters and walking none. Most impressive is that he's issued just 16 balls. The Orioles have liked Akin as a reliever to this juncture, especially one who can pitch in tandem with a righty starter in order to keep opposing lineups off balance. And he's liked the life of a reliever.
Whether the club elects to toss him back into his starting past remains to be seen. But he'll continue to eat innings nonetheless.
It would go starkly against the Orioles' modus operandi to call up Rodriguez so quickly -- and especially simply to replace an injury. Rodriguez has just one Triple-A outing to date (granted, it was a dominant one), and while he's expected to debut at some point in 2022, it'd likely not come until well into the summer. But at that point -- imagine Means and Rodriguez sharing a rotation?
Again, another prospect, Bradish is perhaps the most MLB-ready of the O's top pitching prospects, but one turn in the Norfolk rotation likely isn't enough for a promotion. Once Baltimore turns its focus to prospects this season, he could be one of the first callups.
Aiding Wells is nothing small -- he's already with the big league team, recalled on Monday, and is yet to appear in a game. Whether his role comes in long-relief or as a starter will have to be determined, but Wells stands at the ready to provide length.
Ellis was one of the last roster cuts in Spring Training after a wonky showing, but he remained in the organization to try and rework his mechanics and thereby some of his success from 2021. So far he has only one outing to show for it, but it was a great one: four no-hit frames on Wednesday, the same night Means left injured, with one walk against five strikeouts. He would line up exactly to take Means' rotation spot next turn should it come to that, although he'd require the Orioles to open a spot on the 40-man roster.
Baumann had been tabbed to a bullpen role to open the year, and he did nothing but excite in his first outing on Monday. Long-term, there's still a chance he starts for the Orioles, but it's likely he has to try and remedy the innings issues out of the bullpen -- at least for now.
Lowther was another last cut to camp, instead asked to work on his control with Triple-A Norfolk. His first appearance at the level didn't go smoothly, with three earned runs and two walks across 3 1/3 innings. But he's overall well-rested, and he did have some spells of success in the Majors in 2021.
The last prospect, Hall has perhaps the slimmest odds. He remains at extended spring training in order to build up under a watchful eye following a season in which a left elbow stress reaction limited him to 31 2/3 innings. He's expected to start the year at Double-A Bowie if not a lower-level affiliate for rehab -- not the Majors. But someday soon.
There's a chance that Harvey, signed to a Minor League deal on Saturday, could contribute to the Orioles by some point this summer. But given that he needs to build up in Florida and given the uncertainty of his situation, there's no expectation he can provide innings this quickly.