For the first time in 15 months, Orioles left-hander John Means will take the mound in a competitive baseball game.

Means is set for a rehab assignment for Double-A Bowie against the Richmond Flying Squirrels on Thursday, Baltimore announced, a major step forward in a lengthy recovery process from the pitcher’s Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last year.

Should this rehab assignment go well, Means could be in line for a return to the Orioles by the end of the month at the earliest.

While there’s no indication yet on how many competitive innings Means will be able to throw, he could offer a major boost to a pitching staff that is relatively inexperienced. Across the board, most of Baltimore’s starters and high-leverage relievers are nearing or have already surpassed their career highs in innings. Adding Means to the mix, even as a reliever for the stretch run toward the postseason, would be a welcome return.

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Means only threw eight innings last season before he underwent Tommy John surgery in late April 2022. The successful operation, performed by Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas, led executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias to believe “if his history and work ethic are any guide, he’ll be back as good as ever, if not better than ever.”

The initial hope from Elias was that Means would return in the first half of this season, but he experienced a setback in late May this year when he suffered strain in his left teres major, a muscle in the scapula/upper back region, during a non-throwing drill. That pushed Means’ return off, but Elias noted “this isn’t the end of the world or anything.”

Means became an All-Star in 2019 with a 3.60 ERA for the Orioles. Means threw a no-hitter in 2021, a season in which he held a 3.62 ERA, against the Seattle Mariners.

Those days aren’t far in the past, even if Means hasn’t pitched in a full game for more than half a year.

That’s what makes Thursday’s step so significant. Should everything go well, Means is on the final stretch in his return to Baltimore.

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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