Orioles left-hander John Means will undergo season-ending Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Means announced Saturday on Twitter.
Recovery time for Tommy John surgery typically exceeds a year, meaning Baltimore will be without its ace for the rest of 2022 and most likely a portion of 2023.
An All-Star in 2019 who made his second straight season-opening start just more than two weeks ago, Means, who turns 29 on Sunday, unexpectedly exited his April 13 start against the Milwaukee Brewers after four innings with what was then called left forearm tightness, an ailment that is often a precursor to elbow injuries.
Means was eventually put on the 60-day injured list with a left elbow sprain, suggesting a tear in his elbow, though the Orioles sought additional tests and medical opinions in hopes of avoiding surgery.
“After multiple MRI’s it’s confirmed that I need Tommy John surgery,” Means tweeted Saturday. “I’m obviously disappointed, but more motivated than ever. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to watching what this team can do this year. I’ll be back, Go O’s.”
Although the Orioles’ pitching staff is off to a strong start — entering Saturday tied for fifth in the majors with a 2.80 ERA — the thought it will have to try to continue that success without Means is a painful one.
“It’s obviously a blow,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde told reporters in Anaheim, California, before Saturday’s game against the Angels. “It’s a blow to John, to our club. Not going to have John for a while, and John’s a big part of our pitching staff, a big part of our team. Injuries happen, but I feel bad for John. Not only what he brings on the field, on the mound, but the leadership he brings to our clubhouse, it’s going to be tough without him. But we have to have guys step and take different roles.”
Means, who won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season, has a career 3.81 ERA, serving as the Orioles’ top pitcher for most of the previous three seasons. Last May, he pitched the organization’s first complete-game no-hitter in more than 50 years, striking out 12 Seattle Mariners and coming a dropped third strike shy of a perfect game.
An 11th-round pick in 2014, Means was one of the last players to crack Baltimore’s season-opening roster in 2019, then thrived out of their bullpen early before doing the same in their rotation. He represented Baltimore in the All-Star Game that season and finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting.
Set to serve as the Orioles’ opening day starter in 2020, Means instead began the year on the IL with arm fatigue. After struggling upon his return, he closed the season with a dominant four-start stretch, carrying that success into the early portion of 2021, when he was one of the game’s top pitchers two months into the season. But then he missed nearly that long with a left shoulder strain, and although he remained Baltimore’s top starter once activated, he was not nearly as consistent.
Means entered 2022 with hopes of pitching 200 innings, a mark only four major leaguers surpassed a year ago. He spent his offseason training at Dr. Keith Meister’s physical therapy facility in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, hoping to avoid the left shoulder flare-ups that have led to IL stints in two of his three full major league seasons.
On Wednesday, Meister will perform Means’ Tommy John surgery, according to The Athletic. Means pitched only eight innings for the Orioles in 2022, and it will be at least a year before he throws another.
In Means’ absence, the starters left in the Orioles’ rotation have largely stepped up. Chris Ellis, who started in Means’ place Tuesday in Oakland, pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings. Bruce Zimmermann, a left-hander who has in many ways emulated Means, has a 1.20 ERA through three starts. In the eight games since Means’ early exit, Baltimore’s starters have a 1.46 ERA, the best in the majors during that span.
But not having Means contribute throughout the year will sting, even as the Orioles’ top three pitching prospects — Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall and Kyle Bradish — could all make their debuts as the season continues. Ideally, that trio will all be in Baltimore’s rotation when Means rejoins it sometime in 2023, but his absence will surely be felt heavily until then.
“We lost our opening day starter, and that hurts, and I think we’re all aware, too, that it was going to be an extended time he would be out,” Hyde said. “We need to get John healthy and ready for 2023.”