Orioles ace Means goes to IL with shoulder strain, but MRI reveals “no structural changes”

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(Updated: 4:45 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The morning after John Means Day lasted just 29 pitches, the Orioles placed their ace on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain that isn’t believed to be serious.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed a strain “very, very similar” to what Means suffered two years ago and “no structural changes in his shoulder,” according to Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. The club will shut down the 28-year-old for a week to 10 days and proceed from there based on how he responds to treatment. Despite the Orioles wasting little time placing Means on the IL while awaiting the MRI results, Hyde described the injury as “pretty much a sore shoulder” after Sunday’s 18-5 win over Cleveland.

Exactly one month to the day he tossed the club’s first individual no-hitter in 52 years, Means exited Saturday’s start with two outs in the opening inning with what was initially labeled shoulder “fatigue.”

“With the couple off-days coming up, he leaves the game in the first inning with some tenderness in his shoulder — we’re going to side with caution,” Hyde said prior to Sunday’s game. “I have not talked to him [this morning]. I haven’t seen him yet just because he went and got the MRI a couple hours ago.”

This marks the third straight year Means has been placed on the IL with a left shoulder problem, a factor that’s a greater concern than his short-term absence from the starting rotation. Means spent just over the 10-day minimum on the IL with “a left shoulder strain” in June of 2019 before returning to pitch 84 1/3 innings over the remainder of the season, making Hyde’s comparison to that injury on Sunday an encouraging development. After originally being named the Opening Day starter for the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, Means began the season on the IL with “left shoulder fatigue,” but he quickly returned in late July to make 10 starts and pitched to a 1.52 ERA over his final four September outings.

Describing the discomfort after Saturday’s game as more of an annoyance he had previously experienced only after his outings in recent weeks, Means said the shoulder issue was “not major” and “nothing serious,” but Hyde initially didn’t want to speculate or read too much into his No. 1 starter missing action with a shoulder concern for a third consecutive season. In his no-hitter at Seattle on May 5, Means threw a career-high 113 pitches — his previous mark was 111 in a 2019 start — and hadn’t thrown more than 95 pitches in any of his four subsequent starts before Saturday. His average fastball velocity in the first inning (94.2 mph) was higher than his season average (92.9 mph).

“I don’t have long-term concern. It is something that he dealt with to start the year last year after summer camp and back in [2019], also, we shut him down for a couple weeks,” said Hyde about Means’ recurring shoulder issues. “I’m waiting to hear what the medical people say. That’s not my area of expertise to be honest with you, but I would love to try to keep him healthy. That’s why we push him back on occasion. After the no-hitter, we pushed him back a couple days. We pushed him back a day before this last start. I’m just waiting to see.”

Off to the best start of his career, Means has pitched to a 2.28 ERA with 69 strikeouts, 13 walks, and eight home runs allowed in 12 starts covering 71 innings this season, making him one of the best pitchers in the American League.

The Orioles recalled left-hander Zac Lowther from Tripe-A Norfolk to take Means’ place on the 26-man roster, but the rookie was optioned back to the Tides after pitching the final two innings of Sunday’s blowout victory.