Drew French on John Means: "Team first, very selfless guy"

The baseball industry won’t experience a shortage of theories on why the amount of healthy pitchers is declining. On why elbow pain is on the rise and the injured list is getting more crowded than a Memorial Day beach.

Pitchers are throwing too hard at a young age. The pitch clock is rushing them. Banning sticky substances puts more pressure on arms, whether by tightening grips or forcing spin action.

That’s just a sampling. Other theories are floated, with players and management often shooting them down.

The harder question is, what can be done to minimize the damage?

The Orioles just lost Kyle Bradish again to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. John Means underwent his second Tommy John surgery on June 3, and Tyler Wells is approaching his own reconstructive procedure. Danny Coulombe has inflammation in his left elbow.

It isn’t just elbows. The body part party includes Dean Kremer’s strained right triceps that put him on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Norfolk.

“I think it starts with communication with each individual player and kind of understanding and trying to attack it from multiple angles, you know?” said pitching coach Drew French. “And what I mean by that is, I’m not the only one talking to them. Mitch (Plassmeyer) is, Hyder (Brandon Hyde) is, Fredi González is, the trainers, the strength coaches. We’re trying to get them to feel like they can be honest with us and sort of understanding where they’re at and knowing that we can manipulate things to buy them an extra day or give them some time off without an IL. Different things like that.

“I think that’s exactly where it starts, but we do our very best to win games that are in front of us and also to take care of our players at the same time, because we want to be at our best in October.”

Means made four September starts after returning from his surgery and four more this year before succumbing to the elbow discomfort. He felt it in previous outings and chose to ignore it while warming in the bullpen before a May 22 game in St. Louis because he didn’t want to, in his words, “screw the bullpen.”

Means gave the Orioles three scoreless innings and was done for 2024 and a very large chunk of 2025.

“Team first, very selfless guy,” French said.

“We’re always paying attention to the details and the small things. Their reactions to certain things and how they go about their throwing program and their pregame bullpen and in between innings. There’s a lot of eyes on these guys. And all we’re trying to do is make sure they have the opportunity to be their best version. So something that we didn’t necessarily sniff out early, early on, and then finally when he was honest with where things were, we knew it was time to get the next guy in there. But John is a selfless guy just like the rest of these dudes. They want to take care of their brothers. It means a lot to us.”

The succession of injuries and setbacks are hard to watch and worse for the people close to them.

“It’s tough because they’re invested in Baltimore and they’re invested in them and the culture and the environment and winning and taking next steps with these players. So it is emotional because we love these players and they’re competitors and they’re warriors,” French said.

“They’re obviously praying for speedy recoveries, and hopefully the next guy is ready.”

This is a next-man-up mentality that’s promoted throughout the clubhouse but doesn’t require a closed-door meeting to explain. They get it.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve talked about it yet,” French said. “I think you’re always having like a what’s next mentality, whether it’s a good outing or a bad outing or an injury or wherever it is. I think we’re just trying to stay the course and keep our eyes on the six inches in front of us.”

Losing another starter Saturday made Grayson Rodriguez’s season-high seven innings with only two runs allowed seem far more important than the usual mid-June game.

“It’s huge,” French said. “Kyle’s on the IL and Danny recently, but both of these guys are still in this clubhouse and they’re providing value even when they’re not playing or pitching for us because they’re warriors and their mentality is strong, and they represent everything we want this pitching staff to be. So Grayson taking the ball and doing that for seven innings against this lineup is huge.”

The Orioles haven’t provided an update on Coulombe’s elbow, but everyone seems confident that he won’t require a second Tommy John procedure.

It’s been 13 years since his first surgery, but Coulombe remembers the exact spot of the discomfort and what he’s experiencing now isn’t the same. A different area of the elbow.

The club is in fact-gathering mode and could pass along an update within the next few days.

Note: Coby Mayo hit two more home runs yesterday on his rehab assignment with High-A Aberdeen and is returning to Triple-A Norfolk.

Mayo, who went on the injured list with a fractured rib, appeared in four games with Aberdeen and was 6-for-13 with three doubles, three home runs and two walks.


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