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Saturday, December 10, 2022

When John Means comes back, the Orioles walking around him will be different – and better – than the one he leaves. Analysis

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White text posted on a black background, in four paragraphs Twitter, the stomach-ripping reality was joined by what began as forearm splints and ended in the form of Tommy John surgery at the end of the season. That’s what Orioles ace John Means posted Saturday afternoon, confirming the worst case scenario with a brief update on his impending elbow reconstructive surgery.

Means finds that his season was derailed before it could barely begin. He had bowled just eight innings as a precaution, making his second start to the season after four innings and 51 pitches. Over the next few days, what Means initially described as forearm stiffness, was upgraded to a 10-day and then 60-day injured list designation. It went from tightness to elbow strain to elbow sprain.

Elbow reconstructive surgery leaves the left-hander with at least a year to recover.

However, at the end of that four-paragraph update, there was a glimpse into the future. “I’ll be back,” Means wrote. And he will be, because Tommy John surgery — involving a difficult comeback — isn’t the career-threatening operation it once was.

When Means returns at some point in 2023, the rotation and team he has left this season will look very different. He will return as the leading man in an up-and-coming rotation, one claiming three top prospects due to make his major league debut and the other left-hander – Bruce Zimmerman – to start the season. The light is out.

So the injury is a big blow to a pitcher who has set a target of reaching 200 innings this season, but the long-term outlook is not as bleak. The 2022 Orioles are not in win mode yet. But as prospects begin to unfold and Means returns to health, perhaps 2023 will have a different mindset, with healthy resources at the fore once again.

“I am clearly disappointed,” Means wrote, “but more inspired than ever.”

When Means first took the injury, manager Brandon Hyde said the loss of the team’s ace would in no way accelerate promotion. But the three pitchers should soon find their way to the big leagues – and if all goes according to plan, they should remain in rotation going forward.

Grayson Rodriguez, right-hander, baseball’s top pitching prospect, can reach midsummer. He blew his way through the Triple-A lineup, allowing two runs in 14 1/3 innings with a 0.49 WHIP. He is followed by left-hander DL Hall, the No. 3 prospect in Baltimore’s agricultural system, and right-hander Kyle Bradish (No. 9), according to Baseball America.

The Orioles have placed most of their future on those three arms. Hall remains on the development list as the organization slows his recovery from a strain reaction in his left elbow last season. Bradish pretty much matched Rodriguez’s output at Triple-A Norfolk, conceding two earned runs in 15 innings.

“We’re not going to rush into possibilities,” Hyde told reporters in Los Angeles. “We’re going to do what’s right for him. We’re bowling very well as a staff right now. Since John’s out, different players have come forward and we have to continue to do that.” “

Zimmerman goes a step further this season as a fixture in the rotation. The southpaw, with a similar change-heavy arsenal as Means, became the first Orioles starter since Jim Palmer in 1978 to start the season with at least 14 scoreless innings.

Adding means to that group of four would establish a rotation that seems – at least on paper – capable of competing in the American League East. Means remains in control of the team until the 2024 season, when it becomes free-agent eligible.

There are certain certainties in baseball. Recovery from Tommy John surgery is easier than before but is not without hiccups. And the development of possibilities also involves unexpected turns.

There’s a lot to take away from that four-paragraph statement posted on Twitter. Multiple MRIs confirming the need for Tommy John surgery. The disappointment of a season lost so quickly. But focusing on that last line — “I’ll be back” — is a salve of sorts for Burn Means’ forecast leaves on the 2022 campaign.

It will take a year, but the rotation means reconnection, which may be a lot better than what was left in his wake. And it is a ray of hope on which to stand firmly.

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