“It hasn’t flared up at all,” Means said on his Zoom call, “so, yeah, I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
More than six weeks have passed since Means pitched, outside of three injury rehab games in the minors.
“I was more frustrated that it had to happen,” he said. “I didn’t really want to take time off. I wanted to try to make as many starts as I possibly could. Hopefully, one of these years I can make every start. I don’t want that to be my stigma is to get hurt halfway through. So just more frustrating that it had to happen but no point in thinking about it now. I’m just moving forward.”
Means is well past his May 5 no-hitter in Seattle. He tossed six scoreless innings against the Mets at Citi Field, allowed a combined nine runs in his next three starts totaling 18 1/3 innings and lasted only two-thirds of an inning and 29 pitches against the Indians at Camden Yards - surrendering two more runs to raise his ERA to 2.28 - before walking off the mound with tightness in his shoulder/lat area. An issue that’s cropped up in past years.
The task now is to regain his dominant form that appeared to be steering him toward the All-Star Game and remain healthy.
“Just go out there and try to pitch deep into the game, try to finish how I started,” he said. “I felt really good, I feel really comfortable right now in what I’m doing and what I need to accomplish and so just to keep doing what I did in the first half.”
There’s nothing drastic that Means needs to do in his workouts and conditioning to prevent a recurrence of the injury. It’s more about maintenance and preventative measures.
“Working out, I’m good, I keep in good shape and everything like that,” he said. “It’s just this one spot in the back of my shoulder. It’s a muscle that, since I throw so many changeups and I pronate so much, that it gets a little tighter than most people. But it’s something that I need to take care of. It’s something that I didn’t, and I was just cruising there for so long and didn’t really want to change anything, I wanted to stay out of the training room as much as possible, but that was stupid on my part. And now I know that I’ve got to keep that up and keep that spot as loose a possible so the rest of the muscles aren’t doing too much.”
Manager Brandon Hyde appears intent on easing Means back into a busy schedule. He won’t take any unnecessary chances.
“It’s his first time out and you can do all the rehab assignment starts you want, (but) there’s nothing like pitching in the big leagues,” Hyde said. “He got his pitch count up a little bit, but we’re going to closely monitor. I’m not going to push him in any sort of way these first couple of starts, so we’ll monitor traffic, the pressure pitches if there’s a lot of people on base, etc. I might cut his outings short a little bit. I’m not going to push him.
“Once he gets settled back in after the first couple starts, I hope he does finish like he did last year. That was one of the better starting pitchers in the American League, and how he started this year the same way. I just want him to get out there, be healthy the first couple starts, feel good about how his shoulder feels, about how his pitches are coming along. It’s been a while, he hasn’t pitched in a while. We have two-plus months to go and I really want to keep him healthy for these last couple of months.
“After these first couple starts and he starts to cruise like he was earlier in the year, that would be great for us.”
Getting Means on the mound again makes him a more attractive trade chip, though the Orioles would need to be overwhelmed by an offer to consider moving him. He’s braced for change in the clubhouse, knowing a teammate or two could be packing.
It’s the nature of the deadline business.
“It’s one of those things you can’t control, so you try not to think about it,” he said.
“We’re all just playing this game, trying to stay as long as we possibly can. All that stuff is above our pay grade, so we just want to be able to control what we can control. You make relationship, you hold onto them as long as you can because you never know when you’re done playing and you never know when you may go to a different team. We just kind of play day by day and just try to control what we can control.”
Means was able to stay with his family during the break and the last series in Kansas City, where he hosted a cookout in his back yard, with a television mounted, to watch Trey Mancini in the Home Run Derby and Cedric Mullins in the All-Star Game. He wishes that he had been able to pitch but made the most of his downtime.
“It was just nice being home with the family and getting to spend some time with everybody,” he said. “I’m not as important anymore. My son is now more important than I am. People really wanted to see him more so than me. But it was cool to have my family see him and meet him and just see how big he’s gotten.”
Mullins is being rested tonight, nothing due to health, but is available to pinch-hit as he did in Anaheim.
“Not much of an All-Star break, want to keep him fresh these last 70-plus games,” Hyde said. “I think you see, especially this year, the amount of injuries happening around the league - outfielders, pitchers, etc. - and just try to rotate guys. I gave (Ryan) Mountcastle a day yesterday, Cedric didn’t have much of a break.”