Means suffers back strain, experiences setback in return

May 26th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Since before Spring Training this year, the Orioles viewed as a potential Trade Deadline-like impact acquisition who wouldn’t require them to part with any assets. The 30-year-old left-hander, who is on the 60-day injured list, underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2022, so this July seemed like a reasonable target for his return.

But Means is now unlikely to be back that soon.

On Friday evening, Baltimore general manager Mike Elias announced that Means sustained a strain in his left teres major, a muscle in the scapula/upper back region, while participating in non-throwing activation drills during his rehab program. Elias is unsure when Means could return, but it won’t be until sometime after the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.

“This is basically just going to add some time to his return back to the Orioles. How long exactly? I don’t know,” Elias said. “We’re still very much hoping on getting him back this season, but this is obviously going to slow things down and tack on some time before we actually see him out to pitch in games. ... This isn’t the end of the world or anything.”

Means pitched in only two games last season before getting shut down and undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. It was a disappointing development for the southpaw, who had emerged as a rotation ace for the Orioles in previous years.

In 2019, Means was the American League Rookie of the Year Award runner-up, recording a 3.60 ERA in 31 games (27 starts). He was just as reliable in ‘21, when he pitched to a 3.62 ERA in 26 starts. He also tossed the sixth no-hitter in team history (since 1954), twirling a 12-strikeout gem in Seattle on May 5, 2021.

Whenever Means is ready to return, Baltimore will make room for him in its rotation. His recovery went so well to this point, the club had become increasingly optimistic that it would be in July, prior to this minor setback.

“These things happen,” Elias said. “I’m glad it wasn’t his elbow or anything kind of throwing related. We’ve got five pitchers here really pitching well and in a groove.”

That’s true. The Orioles may have entered Friday with a 4.76 rotation ERA that ranked 21st in MLB, but they’ve consistently been getting much better performances from their handful of right-handers (, , , and ) in May than in April.

Still, the news of Means’ delayed timeline prompts thoughts of how Baltimore may handle the Trade Deadline in a little more than two months. He may not be among the team’s late-July additions, but who could be?

“We’ve got to see what happens around the league and where we’re at in the standings,” Elias said. “I just trust that the front office is doing what it should be doing to prepare for the Trade Deadline, and we’re preparing to be buyers.”

Coming off a 5-1 American League East road trip through Toronto and New York, the Orioles (33-17) headed into Friday’s series opener vs. the Rangers with the second-best record in the big leagues. They trailed only the MLB-best Rays (37-15) in the AL East. So it makes sense Baltimore could firmly be in position to be buyers come Aug. 1.

Even last season -- when the O’s were in the thick of the postseason hunt at the Deadline -- they again acted more like sellers, sending slugger Trey Mancini to the Astros and All-Star closer Jorge López to the Twins. This year, their moves could greatly differ from the previous deals they’ve made since Elias became GM in November 2018.

“We’re definitely preparing all types of scenarios,” Elias said, “and they’re buy scenarios.”