Left-hander John Means and right-hander Dillon Tate have suffered setbacks in their recovery from injuries, leaving their return to the Orioles further in the distance and murkier than it had been.

Neither of the setbacks is related to the initial injury the pitcher suffered, said Mike Elias, Baltimore’s executive vice president and general manager.

Means, who was in the midst of a lengthy recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, suffered a back muscle strain that will slow his timeline and effectively rules out the July return initially hoped for. Means underwent surgery in April 2022 and had been making steady progress.

Tate, who pitched in a slew of rehab appearances as he worked back from a flexor forearm strain suffered in November 2022, has experienced a stress reaction in his elbow. Elias said he doesn’t anticipate Tate’s latest injury being long term, although it pauses Tate’s progress and the Orioles will leave him on the injured list.

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Means experienced the back muscle injury in a nonthrowing incident as he warmed up in Florida. Elias said it’s Means’ teres major muscle near the scapula.

“How long exactly, I don’t know,” Elias said. “We’re still very much hoping to get him back this season, but this is obviously going to slow things down and tack on some time before we actually see him out pitching games. But he’s doing well. This isn’t the end of the world or anything. This is just kind of bad timing, an unfortunately timed muscle strain that’s just going to cause him to kill some time in his rehab while we wait for that to heal.”

Elias noted the muscle strain for Means is different from the shoulder injuries the 30-year-old has experienced in the past. Means, who remains on the 60-day injured list, was an All-Star in 2019 and threw 146 2/3 innings with a 3.62 ERA in 2021.

He pitched only eight innings in 2022 before his elbow injury set him on a long road to recovery that has been elongated.

“I don’t think July is in the picture now,” Elias said. “We’ll see after that. We’ll kind of take it as it comes. We’ve seen a couple of these muscle strain timelines can just vary, and I don’t see any reasons to start throwing numbers out there. But very, very optimistic to get him back in 2023 still.”

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The trickle-down effect of the injury to Means, particularly, is an enhanced focus on the trade deadline. Baltimore, positioned with the second-best record in Major League Baseball and coming off four straight series wins against American League East opposition, is in “buy” mode, Elias said.

But the exact nature of the trade deadline, which is two months away, is difficult to scope out with this much time. Much of it depends on how other teams win or lose over the course of the season, and how willing they are to part with starting pitching.

“These things happen,” Elias said. “I’m glad it wasn’t his elbow or anything throwing related. We’ve got five pitchers here who are really pitching well and kind of in a groove. We’ve also got a really good group in Triple-A. We’d love to see some of these guys up here too if the need arises. So we’ll be all right. But we’d love to get John back. The important thing is getting him back healthy.”

Tate was a critical piece of Baltimore’s bullpen last year, covering 73 2/3 innings with a 3.05 ERA. His sinker makes him a top-tier ground ball pitcher. Elias said he expects Tate to begin another rehab assignment “pretty soon.”

“His elbow is adapting to pitching again after a long layoff,” Elias said. “He’s healing from a long injury and there was a minor flareup in another part of his elbow. I don’t think this is any cause for concern, but it’s going to slow down his ability to come off the IL.”

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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