Orioles spring training notes on Means, Wells, Vavra, Mayo and O'Hearn (O's claim Castillo and DFA Soto)

SARASOTA, Fla. – John Means joined teammates in spring training warmups this morning, but his throwing distance looked more like a football practice. Deep bombs to his intended target.

Long, long tossing to get his arm loose before heading to the row of mounds.

Means didn’t have his first offseason bullpen session until Jan. 30, with the club slow-playing him back from October elbow soreness. He’s set to begin the season on the injured list, but with the chance for a quick return.

“The way he didn’t finish the season, was unable to pitch in the postseason and then shutting him down for a little while, he’s just a little bit late with his normal throwing program progression. And so, he’s about a month behind,” manager Brandon Hyde said during his daily media scrum.

“If all things work out, sometime in April. I think that’s what we’re planning on. It’s a rough draft right now because it’s a long way away, but we expect him to be ready sometime at the beginning of the season.”

The club isn’t necessarily setting an innings limit on Means, who made four September starts after leaving the 60-day injured list.

“We’ll get there and then watch and monitor it closely throughout the season and communicate with everybody with what we see, him really missing the majority of two years,” Hyde said. “What we feel like is appropriate.”

Kyle Bradish played catch near Means from a much shorter distance and with a much softer touch to begin his throwing progression. He must vacate the No. 2 spot in the rotation while on the injured list.

Corbin Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer are locks, and Hyde didn’t dispute the suggestion that Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin have the inside track to fill the two openings.

“Definitely,” he said.

“We’ll see what happens here in the next month, but definitely give those guys every opportunity. Wells was one of our best starters the first half last year, and Cole was a quality starter for Oakland for a couple of years. We feel confident that they can both handle it. They’re going to get as many starts as possible this spring.”

The Orioles will attempt to get a full season out of Wells, who was optioned to Double-A Bowie for a reset and possible role change after three poor second-half starts. He returned in September as a reliever.

“We’ve asked a lot of him the last couple years, and the way we had to change roles from not pitching for a couple years to, all of a sudden he’s closing for us in 2021,” Hyde said. “Then in ’22, that was difficult to monitor his innings because his innings were so efficient. And even last year, he was the league leader in WHIP in the first half, and the runs he gave up were like solo homers. He didn’t have a ton of long innings.

“I think he just got tired and he just wasn’t used to it, and then all of a sudden he was a back end reliever for us at the end of the season and in the playoffs. I love that Tyler brings such a strike-throwing ability with four pitches. I think he’s got a starter’s mix. Love to see him be able to go deeper in the year this year, because I think he could really help us in the rotation."

The risk in reducing Wells’ innings early is the heavier workload placed on other pitchers. A “double-edge sword,” as Hyde called it.

“You talk about the importance of the health of a bullpen," Hyde said. "Well, when you limit guys in the rotation, now you’re potentially pitching more guys out of the ‘pen that you don’t want. It’s really a balance, honestly, and it’s probably going to be a conversation.”

* Terrin Vavra, absent from the list of spring training invites, is on a throwing progression at the minor league complex in Twin Lakes Park following labrum surgery on his right shoulder.

Vavra played in only two games in the minors after June 14 due to the injury and was shut down again after Sept. 1. The target date is in mid-March for his return to games.

There’s a possibility that the Orioles could bring Vavra to the major league side when he’s ready.

Vavra has been rehabbing here throughout the winter. He was one of the big stories last spring and broke camp with the team but went 12-for-49 with no extra-base hits in 27 games.

* Coby Mayo has been told that his primary spring training position is third base, where the Orioles believe he can play in the majors.

“I wasn’t too sure going into camp, but I think they’ve made it clear they want me try to stick at third,” he said. “That gives me the best opportunity. If there’s a spot open and they want me to play there, there’s a reason why they’re going to put me over there. But I’m always open to trying new things and put myself in a spot to try to make the team.”

Mayo also will get reps at first base but he doesn’t know whether right field is happening. He’s been prepping for it, just in case.

“They kind of made an emphasis last year toward the end of the season that they wanted me at both positions,” he said. “Toward the end of the year in Norfolk I started playing kind of like split maybe four days at third, two days at first, or three and three sometimes, and I would go over there (first) and talk to Buck (Britton) about footwork stuff and some basic first base things. But I feel comfortable at both spots.”

The outfield would be a new endeavor but the Orioles aren’t running short on corner infielders.

“I think it could happen possibly, just depending, but there’s a lot of guys in camp right now and they probably don’t want to take spots away from other guys,” Mayo said. “I think I’m going to be primarily at third, I’d guess, and if I start at Norfolk, maybe get some reps out there if they need it. But I’m just going to do what they tell me.”

* First baseman Ryan O’Hearn homered off Albert Suárez during live batting practice on the Camden Yards replica field. The ball bounced off the roof of the indoor cage beyond the right field fence.

“Oh my God!” a teammate yelled from the bench.

O’Hearn, by the way, is counted among the newly married Orioles. It’s a long list.

* The Orioles claimed infielder/outfielder Diego Castillo off waivers from the Phillies and designated infielder Livan Soto for assignment. The 40-man roster remains full.

Castillo, 26, has been with the Diamondbacks, Mets, Yankees, Phillies and Orioles in less than two months. He appeared in one game with Arizona last season after appearing in 96 with Pittsburgh in 2022 and has batted .205/.250/.380 with 13 doubles and 11 home runs.

Castillo plays every infield position and has pitched twice.

The Orioles selected Soto off waivers from the Angels on Feb. 8.


Orioles claim Diego Castillo from Phillies
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