The Orioles have lost their opening day starter, lefty John Means, for an undetermined length of time. Now, as they await further word on Means' injury, manager Brandon Hyde will try to piece his rotation together and decide the next steps for a pitching staff minus its ace.
Means left his start on Wednesday night against Milwaukee at Camden Yards after four innings and 51 pitches with what was announced that night as left forearm tightness. He had an MRI yesterday.
“He has a forearm muscle strain,” Hyde said during his pregame press conference today at the ballpark. “We need some additional tests to look at any structural damage to his elbow. We’re just continuing to look at it right now, so it's still to be determined how long (he’ll be out).
“I did talk to him earlier. He’s fine. John is not a real up and down guy and he’s just trying to stay positive with this whole thing. And optimistic. But I think he’s handling it fine.
“We don’t have much experience in our rotation and losing your opening day starter. We’ll see how long it’s going to be. But for some time now, it’s going to be hard. Do need guys to step up. John’s one of the guys that people look up to on our pitching staff. So to have him out is going to be challenging.”
While Means has dealt with shoulder issues in the past and missed starts last year because of that, a forearm issue was a first, he said after Wednesday's game.
To replace Means on the active roster, the Orioles selected the contract of right-hander Travis Lakins Sr. from Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles created space on the 40-man roster by assigning left-hander Kevin Smith, who cleared outright waivers, to the Tides.
Of course, having Means missing any time, especially if it turns out to be significant time, would be quite the blow for the Orioles rotation.
On Wednesday, his exit was certainly a surprise. He retired the side in order on nine pitches in the top of the third and on 12 in the fourth inning. He retired the last seven batters in a row and was rolling – until he left the game.
Hyde indicated that right-hander Spenser Watkins is likely to get the start where Means would have pitched next when the O’s open a road trip Monday night at Oakland.
Hyde was asked what Means MRI showed.
“They’re doing more tests,” Hyde said. “I can’t say. I’m not sure what tests are being done tomorrow and the next day, but they are doing tests to look at his elbow.”
Hyde did say this injury could alter some plans for tandem pitching in the future, indicating the club needs some pitchers like Bruce Zimmermann to get stretched out further. The club will continue to use Tyler Wells as a starter with a tandem pitcher throwing multiple innings to follow him.
Hyde was asked if the club is reticent to use bullpen pitchers who are off to good starts like Mike Baumann and Keegan Akin in the rotation. The club also has some uncertainty in the No. 5 spot in the rotation, which comes up next on Tuesday.
“Those are discussions we’re having, because I like to build off success,” said Hyde. “I like guys to feel good and put them in positions to have success, and both those guys are off to such good starts that, you know, we’re talking about what the right thing to do is and we’re factoring in everything right now. But both those guys have thrown well out of the 'pen as long guys and, as of now, they’re staying in that role.”
The Orioles seem reluctant right now to add top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez to the staff. He has thrown nine innings with an ERA of 2.00 in two Triple-A starts and threw five innings for Norfolk last night. It may be too soon for righty Kyle Bradish, who has pitched once for the Tides this year and is listed as Norfolk’s Sunday starter.
“I think they’re going to move the prospects (up here) when they’re ready to move the prospects and not determine what our record is or what’s happening here with the major league roster," Hyde said.
“I would never want to rush a prospect to the big leagues. I’m not there. When they feel the prospects are ready, then we’re going to welcome them."
Hyde indicated that today's news doesn’t put any additional pressure on tonight’s starter, Jordan Lyles, to go deeper in games.
“I’m not going to discuss that I need him to go further because Means is going to be out for a while. That’s not going to come up,” he said.
Hyde was asked about concerns that Means being out puts further stress on his bullpen, which is off to a good start with an ERA of 2.45 to rank third in the AL.
“Definitely a concern,” he said. “I’ve used a couple of guys already more than I wanted to the first week of the season. I need for them to be successful for six months and for me to give them the opportunity to have success here and not over-pitch them early. That’s going to be important. So we’re monitoring that very closely as well.”
The Orioles will be without coaches Anthony Sanders and Tony Mansolino again tonight, as they were Wednesday. They are adding two coaches from their minor leagues to help out for now. They’ve added Christian Frias and Jeff Kunkel from the minors and also Ryan Klimek, who works the Orioles advance scouting department, will be helping out in the dugout Hyde said.
Jackie Robinson Day: Before today’s game, O’s center fielder Cedric Mullins talked how honored he feels to wear No. 42 tonight. All players in Major League Baseball will be wearing the number 42 to honor the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers breaking the color barrier in baseball on this day in 1947.
“It means everything. We are talking about someone who sacrificed a lot to create opportunities that he might have not thought were even possible back in his day. To wear his number out there on the field in honor of him is awesome,” Mullins said.
“It’s something that is awesome. To take a moment to reflect on Jackie Robinson’s life and what he means to the game of baseball. Especially for African-American players. To be able to put it all out there in his name and his honor, it’s going to be a great night."