Forget a nail in the tire. Mike Elias’ camp-opening media session in Sarasota, Florida, on Thursday probably felt like a veritable spike strip for the Orioles’ hype train.

Kyle Bradish has sprained the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, which has all the makings of a serious issue based on the history of such injuries; John Means’ nearly 2-year-old elbow injury will in all likelihood keep him off the team’s season-opening roster and, of minor concern simply because of who it involves, Gunnar Henderson’s camp will be delayed a bit due to a mild oblique strain the Orioles aren’t worried about.

Taken collectively, the Elias injury rundown has considerably weighed on sentiment around a team that at sunrise Thursday featured few reasons for anything but optimism. Concurrently, there’s a natural inclination to hold on to the hope in each player’s prognosis — Bradish’s platelet-rich plasma injection and pending resumption of throwing, Means’ schedule to resume activity and Henderson’s expected return.

I wouldn’t hold on too tight. Brace yourselves for these injuries, especially to the pitchers. The best-case scenario when it comes to elbows is rarely realized. But there’s still the kind of quality depth in that Ed Smith Stadium clubhouse to endure these losses, even potentially big ones.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

What made the Corbin Burnes addition so attractive, in addition to him simply being the best pitcher the Orioles have acquired in recent memory, is how he was joining an already impressive rotation. That group sans Bradish (and potentially Means longer term, too) is still impressive if you consider Burnes in Bradish’s spot and someone who may have been bumped out — a Tyler Wells or Cole Irvin — taking Means’ early-season starts.

Wells spent half of last season as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and his swift decline and subsequent banishment to the minors probably provided more motivation than anyone could possibly need to prevent a repeat of that. Irvin isn’t more than a fifth starter, but he was much better after his disastrous start to the season and is going to be a steady presence however he’s used.

They aren’t the ones who would be replacing Bradish, though. Burnes is. We’ll likely never know the truth about how much John Angelos’ agreement to sell a majority stake in the Orioles to a group led by David Rubenstein influenced the decision to acquire Burnes for the top of the rotation.

What’s much more likely, given the timing of Bradish’s elbow discomfort last month, is the move is a higher-stakes version of signing Craig Kimbrel to replace Félix Bautista. The Orioles may have traded prospects to acquire a new No. 1 starter with the knowledge they may be without theirs for the entire season.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

When asked about this Thursday, Elias, the executive vice president and general manager, told reporters in Sarasota the Orioles had urgency for such an addition all winter and that Bradish’s issue “shaped the rotation pursuits a little differently at that point.”

To say there’s more to be done with this news now public likely discounts when the Orioles found out about it. If they were going to sign Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery — the top free agent pitchers left on the market — they’d have had a better opportunity before announcing the hole in their rotation to the media than after it. Same goes for any trade. This kind of news drives prices up.

But realistically considering how this will impact the Orioles — it’s still just the first day of pitchers and catchers working out — requires an understanding of what they’ll be dealing with. No one who has reacted to Bradish’s injury news has the level of detail required to assess whether he truly is, as Elias said, “in a really good spot right now” and “pointed in the right direction and going well at this time.”

You’ll remember that Bautista suffered a UCL injury last year, returned to throwing and ultimately had Tommy John surgery. Part of that had to do with where his injury fell in the calendar; the Orioles knew he’d need surgery and would be out for all of 2024 no matter what happened, so they tried to get him back for the playoffs on the slight chance he could contribute. It’s not the same with Bradish, who given the timing of his injury with a traditional one-year return-to-action timeline will have to decide on potential surgery quickly or risk missing part of 2025 as well.

Further in the past, the sagas of Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey’s elbows on their rehab routes were unsuccessful before surgery. Every nonsurgical avenue is worth trying, because as Means himself shows, there’s no guarantee of a timely or smooth return. He was delayed in his return last season by a back injury, then had what was described as typical return-to-action discomfort that caused him to miss the playoffs and will delay his start to 2024, too.

Injuries can be mild, as Henderson’s was described. They can follow the best-case timeline. They frequently do not. But even the worst-case scenario for the players Elias provided updates on — all meaningful parts of the Orioles’ path to greatness in 2024 — may not have as severe an impact on the team’s outlook. There’s reason to believe the Orioles have been accounting for them for a lot longer than we have.

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland.

More From The Banner