Orioles left-hander John Means recently suffered a back muscle strain, with general manager Mike Elias relaying the news to reporters, including Andy Kostka of The Baltimore Banner (Twitter links).
Means, 30, underwent Tommy John surgery in April of last year and is on the 60-day injured list. It was already known that he wasn’t going to be available to the Orioles in the early parts of this season but this new issue will push his timeline even further down the road. “We’re still very much hoping to get him back this season,” Elias said. “But this is obviously going to slow things down and tack on some time before we actually see him out pitching games.” Elias said that a return in July is out of the picture, meaning it will still be many months before he returns.
It’s an unfortunate development as Means had previously been one of the few bright spots on the Baltimore roster during their dismal rebuilding years. He has 356 2/3 career innings with a 3.81 ERA. His 21.2% strikeout rate is actually slightly below average, but he pairs that with strong control, shown by his 5% walk rate.
The club is now showing that those dreary tanking years are in the past, as they have shot out to an excellent 33-17 start here in 2023. However, the starting rotation still stands out as an area that could use some improvement. The Baltimore starters have a collective 4.76 ERA this year, a mark that places them 21st out of the 30 clubs in the league.
Getting Means back into the mix could have provided them with a stabilizing effect but that will now have to wait. His continued progress over the next few months could perhaps have an impact on how the club approaches the trade deadline, which is on August 1 this year. If the southpaw seems like he’s close to returning by then, perhaps they feel less urgency to splurge on a rotation addition, but the inverse could also be true.
Means still hadn’t settled his arbitration salary last year at the time of his surgery. Shortly after going under the knife, he and the club agreed to a two-year, $5.925MM deal that covered both last year and this season. He’ll be eligible for arbitration one more time for the 2024 season, after which he’d reach free agency. The kind of raise he’ll be able to command will be impacted by when he’s able to return and what form he’s in.
Elsewhere on the Orioles’ roster, right-hander Dillon Tate has been dealing with a flexor strain since November and still hasn’t made it to the majors this year. He’s been pitching in the minors on a rehab assignment for the past month but won’t be joining the big league club anytime soon. Elias says that Tate has a stress reaction in his elbow, a different area than his flexor tendon injury, per Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The right-hander will be shut down until the issue passes before going out on yet another rehab assignment.
The 29-year-old posted a solid 3.05 ERA last year in 73 2/3 innings for the O’s. He struck out 20.5% of batters faced, walked 5.5% and got grounders on 57.4% of balls in play. He reached arbitration for the first time over the winter and is making $1.5MM this year. He can be retained via arbitration for two more seasons before he’s slated to reach free agency after 2025.