John Means' return in '23 will be big, but when exactly is uncertain

When Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow took the mound on Oct. 8 in the American League Wild Card Series against the Guardians, no doubt one Orioles pitcher was watching closely. We don’t know that for certain but can assume that Baltimore lefty John Means watched with great interest.

Glasnow has gotten to where Means wants to go - to the end of the rehab process and back to a big league mound after Tommy John surgery. And he did it rather quickly.

In that game versus Cleveland, Glasnow threw five scoreless innings on two hits and 63 pitches. That was a nice success story for his comeback. No doubt the Rays may have handled him differently if his surgery had not taken place on Aug. 4, 2021. That meant if he could come back in around 13 months, he might help the Rays before this year was out. And Glasnow hit that deadline.

He pitched in four Triple-A games, starting out with a one-inning outing for Durham on Sept. 7, returning to a pro mound at about exactly 13 months out. He pitched seven innings in four games for Durham and then joined Tampa Bay for two late-season starts that led to that playoff outing. He threw three innings on 50 pitches Sept. 28 for the Rays and threw 3 2/3 on 64 pitches on Oct. 3. Then he made a successful playoff start 14 months and four days after his procedure.

If Means could be back throwing well in a big league game 14 months after his procedure – which took place April 27, 2022 – he would be back with the Orioles in late June next year. The team would probably be delighted with such a timeline especially if Means could quickly get his usual stuff back. It would be like making a mid-year trade for a top starting pitcher.

In getting Glasnow back, the Rays didn’t just add any pitcher, but one of their best. Same would be true of Means and the Orioles. Glasnow pitched to a 2.66 ERA in 14 starts in 2021 before his surgery. Glasnow also got his fastball velocity back. His fastball averaged 97.3 mph in 2021 and 97.6 mph after his return this year.

He provides a great role model for Means and the Orioles. Glasnow pitched in minor league games 13 months out. If Means could match that, he’s back, at least on the farm, in late May perhaps.

But while Glasnow made a quick and effective return, not all pitchers will follow the same path. Some take longer to return. Some return at a similar timeframe, but don’t find their normal stuff or command until months later. Or even potentially longer.

In 26 starts for the Orioles in 2021, Means went 6-9 but with an ERA of 3.62, which produced an ERA+ of 123 and with a WHIP of 1.030. The O’s rotation would love to add such numbers. The odds of Means getting back to that seem high, but when is the question.

That when part just doesn’t have a specific answer today. We’ll know when we know. I remember watching Dylan Bundy on the farm after his surgery. One outing he would look like his old self, and the next show very spotty command and look like a very different pitcher. That was years ago, of course.

Seeing Means duplicate Glasnow would probably be a best-case or close-to-it scenario for the pitcher and the Orioles. Seeing Means get big outs in July, August and/or September would provide a huge lift for a club with designs on the ’23 postseason.

When team management projects the ’23 rotation, the safest scenario might be expecting a return of Means during the year. But when exactly and how much of his stuff comes back quickly is an open-ended question.  

Means' video: Means recently posted video via his Twitter account of his resuming light throwing. It was a nice step for him during his long road back to the Orioles. You can click here to see that.

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