Orioles starting pitcher John Means was supposed to have his final tuneup for the abbreviated 2020 season on Sunday, but now his status for Opening Day appears to be in question.
The 2019 All-Star left-hander and second-place finisher for AL Rookie of the Year has been scratched from the exhibition start in Philadelphia due to “a little bit of dead arm,” according to manager Brandon Hyde. Right-hander Tom Eshelman will now start against the Phillies, but the more important question is whether this will prevent Means from starting the opener against Boston at Fenway Park on Friday night.
“Too early for that. The last few days he just had a little fatigue in his arm,” Hyde said in a video conference call. “We just wanted to hold him off. We’re kind of just monitoring him day to day. We decided today to have him skip [Sunday] and to give him a little more rest.”
Concerns about pitchers’ health is even greater than usual following the 3 1/2-month shutdown of the season for the COVID-19 pandemic. Means allowed two earned runs over four-plus innings in an intrasquad game at Camden Yards this past Tuesday.
Beginning 2019 as a fringe long reliever and quickly joining the starting rotation, Means became one of the better stories in baseball last season by posting a 2.50 ERA in the first half to earn a trip to the All-Star Game. However, the 27-year-old struggled after the break, posting an 8.34 ERA over his first five starts of the second half.
Means rebounded to pitch to a 3.26 ERA in the final eight starts of his rookie season and finished his rookie campaign with a 12-11 record and a 3.60 ERA in 155 innings.
“Last year around this time is when he started feeling — it’s not exactly the same — something along those lines of his arm just feeling a little bit dead,” Hyde said. “Not quite as fast, not quite as strong. That was the middle part of the year last year right around this time. He’s just got a little fatigue going.
“We care so much about him that I just want to make sure we’re taking care of him and that we’re doing the right thing for him and that he is with us for two months. He’s such an important part of our rotation.”
With the Opening Day starting rotation projected to have as many as four starters over age 30, Means is the easy bright spot from a long-term perspective, making a potential absence a sobering thought for a rebuilding club expected to finish last in the AL East for the fourth straight season.