The only thing worse than having just one good starting pitcher is having zero good starting pitchers. That’s the territory the Orioles reached officially on Friday afternoon when they placed John Means on the injured list with what’s being termed a left elbow strain.
It is a regrettable state of affairs. The Orioles had no solution for how to pitch well when Means was on the shelf last year. It doesn’t seem like they’re going to have any better of an idea at this early juncture of the season either. The only question is how severe this injury ends up being and whether it goes into the worst case of Tommy John surgery that would wipe Means out for at least a full year from now.
Prior to Friday’s game against the Yankees, manager Brandon Hyde told Orioles reporters that Means is getting additional tests that will determine if there’s structural damage. He has already undergone an MRI that revealed the elbow strain. As to how long Means will be out, Hyde said, “A while.”
For a corresponding roster move, the Orioles selected the contract of reliever Travis Lakins Sr. from Norfolk. As Lakins was not on the 40-man roster already, the team had to clear room there. They also announced that Kevin Smith, once part of the Miguel Castro trade from the Mets, has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk.
Smith was already assigned to Norfolk, so the only difference for him is he’s off the 40-man. That’s a big difference for him, probably not much of a difference at all for Orioles fans, unless you decided he was your favorite lower-tier prospect. Smith, a 24-year-old lefty, has been command-challenged since joining the O’s organization. He walked 59 batters in 82.1 innings last year and had already walked six batters in 7.2 innings this year.
Lakins was around in the Orioles bullpen for the past two seasons. He had good results in 22 games in the 2020 season, finishing with a 2.81 ERA. Lakins could not follow up with a second straight good season in 2021. His strikeout rate declined, his walk rate increased, and the result was a 5.79 ERA over 24 games. Maybe he was hurt. He did miss the second half of the season, placed on the 10-day and eventually 60-day injured list with right elbow pain.
It does not speak well of the pitching depth that the Orioles assembled over the offseason that the first two guys they needed to call on were Spenser Watkins (8.07 ERA last year) and Lakins. Eventually we’ll start to see some fresh prospect faces on the O’s. It’s not looking like we’ll be seeing them as injury replacements in these early days.
Means’s turn in the Orioles rotation will next come up on Tuesday in Oakland. It’ll be interesting, as much as anything is capable of being interesting about the early days of the 2022 Orioles, to see whether they do more roster shuffling to get a starting pitcher then or whether they just try to cobble together some multi-inning relief. That might depend on who is pressed into service in desperation over the next three games against New York.
Lakins has a minor league option remaining, which means the team can send him back to Norfolk without putting him on waivers first. They may decide they don’t want to do that and end up kicking him off the 40-man roster again.