John Means is back. It’s official. The Orioles activated their 30-year-old lefty starter on Tuesday afternoon ahead of his start tonight against the Cardinals. To clear room on the 26-man roster, reliever Joey Krehbiel was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk. There was already an open spot on the 40-man roster, so the O’s did not need to make an additional move while reinstating Means from the 60-day injured list.
A whole lot has happened with the Orioles in the nearly 17 month interval between Means’s last start and now. Means suffered the ulnar collateral ligament injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery in just his second start last season, months before there was any inkling that the 2022 Orioles might have something good going on. They went on a tear starting in June of last year and have been on fire for all of this season, especially since the All-Star break.
Means, whose early steps towards rehab games earlier this season were interrupted by a back injury, has only been around to witness all of this stuff as a clubhouse and dugout presence when his rehab calendar allowed.
A stalwart in the rotation of a couple of truly gruesome Orioles teams in 2019 and 2021, with individual highlights including his no-hitter against the Mariners, Means has never had a chance to be a part of a good Orioles team until now. He has thrown all of four innings in front of the current left field fence.
We know what Means had to offer before having to get the surgery. His career 3.81 ERA across 70 games is more than solid. What might the 2022 Orioles been able to accomplish with Means? We’ll never know. He’d have been the second-best 2023 Orioles starter with that kind of performance. They’re on pace to win more than 100 games even without that.
The important question for the Orioles in trying to hold on and win the division is what Means can do as he makes his way back from the surgery. He will probably start three of the team’s remaining games, and with how the rest of the rotation has looked, it would be a big help if he can pitch well enough to look like he’d belong in a postseason rotation too.
Results were mixed over the course of Means’s minor league rehab starts at Double-A and Triple-A. He got built up to a max of 86 pitches in one of his Norfolk outings, so it seems unlikely he’d toss 100 tonight. Velocity was reportedly down 1-2mph. Big league hitters will be tougher. A bullpen that’s been heavily used with recent short starts could be taxed again.
These are concerns that are worth keeping in mind, but at least until he starts to pitch tonight, let excitement be the biggest emotion. The best pitcher for the team from the recent bad years is back and hopefully he can now author some great moments for a great Orioles team.