Fenway Park has been host to plenty of highlights in John Means’ career, the site of his major league debut in 2018 and first opening day start with the Orioles in 2021.
It’s also where, this weekend, he rejoined the team in advance of his long-awaited activation from the injured list after his April 2022 Tommy John elbow reconstruction. Means threw a bullpen Saturday, and with Baltimore yet to list starters for the final two games in its upcoming home series with the St. Louis Cardinals, the 30-year-old left-hander seems poised to return to the rotation he shepherded for much of the organization’s rebuild. Even joining the Orioles as a reliever would not dull what he’s out to achieve with a team pursuing its first playoff berth since 2016.
Means was an All-Star and the runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 2019 and was announced as the Orioles’ opening starter the next three seasons, though arm fatigue prevented him from making the assignment in 2020. Between unexpectedly making the season-opening roster in 2019 and exiting his second start of 2022 with an elbow injury that necessitated surgery, Means posted a 3.72 ERA in 69 outings for Baltimore, one of which was a 12-strikeout no-hitter of the Seattle Mariners in May 2021.
A year later, he was on the IL, undergoing a procedure with a recovery time typically lasting more than a year. The Orioles initially suggested he could return this July, but as he began to progress toward a return in May, Means suffered a strain in his upper back that was unrelated to his elbow injury.
On Aug. 10, he made his first rehabilitation outing with Double-A Bowie, and over six starts split between there and Triple-A Norfolk, he gave up nine runs in 21 2/3 innings with 22 strikeouts. He pitched into the fifth inning in each appearance with the Tides, building up to 86 pitches in his penultimate outing before completing five innings on 67 pitches Wednesday.
“I feel really good,” Means said. “Body feels good. Pitches feel good, so I’m ready to go.”
Means said he was pleased with his repertoire, though his low-90s fastball velocity was a tick below what he showed before the injury. He praised the movement on his offspeed pitches — his signature changeup, plus a curveball and slider — and the reactions each of his offerings drew from hitters.
The next test is how they perform against major leaguers. Should Means join the rotation, he’ll become another starter in the mix to start for the Orioles come the playoffs. Young right-handers Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer have established themselves as front-runners to get the ball in a postseason series; only Kremer has shared the Orioles’ rotation with Means. But veterans Kyle Gibson and Jack Flaherty have struggled with consistency, and Means recapturing the form that made him Baltimore’s best starter during the rebuild could give the Orioles a set foursome come October.
They’ve got to get there first, and nearly 17 months after last pitching for Baltimore, Means is excited to help them do so.
“I’ve been waiting a while for this,” Means said. “Just looking forward to whenever that opportunity is, just try to take advantage of it.
“It’s gonna be a lot of fun. This is what we dreamed about for a while, so I’m glad to finally feel part of it.”