Orioles ace Means out indefinitely with elbow strain with additional tests to determine severity

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BALTIMORE — The Orioles have placed top starting pitcher John Means on the 10-day injured list with a left elbow strain, an alarming development for a club off to a major-league-worst 1-5 record over the opening week of the season.

The extent of the damage and the timetable for his return remain to be seen with the 28-year-old lefty having undergone an MRI and set to undergo further testing over the next day or so. Means left Wednesday’s start after throwing just 51 pitches due to what was described as “left forearm tightness,” but he expressed optimism after the game that the discomfort he felt was only a muscular issue.

(Manager Brandon Hyde discusses the health of John Means prior to Friday’s series opener with the New York Yankees.)

“He has a forearm muscle strain. We’re getting him some additional tests to look at any structural damage to his elbow,” said manager Brandon Hyde, who wouldn’t disclose any other details from the MRI. “We’re just continuing to look at it right now, so it’s still undetermined on how long [he’ll be out].”

This marks the fourth straight season the 2019 All-Star pitcher and second-place finisher for 2019 AL Rookie of the Year has landed on the IL, but the previous three years were because of left shoulder problems, including a six-week absence from early June through mid-July of last season. The 2014 11th-round pick has pitched to a 3.81 ERA over 356 2/3 career innings to emerge as Baltimore’s de facto ace over the course of this multiyear rebuild.

Regardless of whether Means avoids a more serious diagnosis that could require Tommy John surgery, his absence for the time being puts significant strain on a rotation already struggling to find footing after general manager Mike Elias made only one meaningful offseason signing — 31-year-old Jordan Lyles. Friday night’s starter against the New York Yankees, Lyles is the only member of the current rotation to log as many as 80 career innings in the majors, and he carries a 5.23 career ERA and had never pitched more than 141 2/3 innings in a season prior to his career-high 180 for Texas last year.

Hyde indicated Spenser Watkins will likely make another start to begin the road trip in Oakland, but he’d prefer to keep lefty Keegan Akin and right-hander Mike Baumann in the bullpen after their early-season success. Assuming the Orioles keep those two in relief roles for the time being, that would leave left-hander Alexander Wells as the most logical candidate on the current roster to assume Means’ rotation spot. The Orioles will lean on left-handed starter Bruce Zimmermann to give them more length in upcoming starts, but they’ll continue to limit Tyler Wells’ pitch counts after the former Rule 5 pick pitched exclusively in relief last season.

“We’ll see how long it’s going to be, but for some time now, it’s going to be hard,” said Hyde about filling out a rotation without his No. 1 starter. “We do need guys to step up. John’s one of the guys people look up to on our pitching staff, so to have him out is going to be challenging. It’s part of the game, and there’s injuries everywhere and injuries happen to every team. We just caught a bad break with this one.”

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Calls for Triple-A starting pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish to be promoted to the majors will only grow louder now, but Hyde said the organization will stay the course with their development plans, regardless of the current needs of the major league club.

“I would never want to rush a prospect to the big leagues. I’m not there [watching them in the minors],” Hyde said. “When they feel like the prospects are ready, then I’m going to welcome them.”

The Orioles selected the contract of right-handed reliever Travis Lakins to take Means’ place on the 28-man roster and outrighted left-hander Kevin Smith to Triple-A Norfolk to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.

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