NORFOLK, Va. — There were signs of the old John Means still there.

A deceptive changeup that resulted in a swing and miss. A beautiful slurve that the hitter couldn’t connect on.

This, Means’ fifth rehab start with Triple-A Norfolk Tides, was his best. He went into the fifth inning, throwing 79 pitches and striking out five, all on his off-speed pitches. He did give up seven hits, but it was all soft contact.

This was just what Means needed as he tries to put his elbow injury behind him for good. He first injured it in April, 2022, undergoing Tommy John surgery that resulted in a 17-month rehab process. He returned to the majors Sept. 12 and dazzled, pitching to a 2.66 ERA in four starts.

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He was lining up to pitch game two or three of the American League Division Series — a milestone that he, one of four who remained from the start of the rebuild, would have relished — when he felt soreness in his elbow again.

An MRI was clear of any additional damage, but he needed to rest the elbow, taking him out for the postseason and delaying his offseason work. Means arrived at spring training in February a month behind the other pitchers and, at the start of the season, went out on a rehab assignment to Norfolk instead of going to Baltimore.

His first rehab games were akin to early spring training games — he went an inning each time, trying to get a feel for pitching in a game again. Means pitched three innings in his next two outings as he built up his pitch count, but in his fifth outing, he didn’t make it out of the first after he gave up five runs.

His velocity has been down during his first five outings, with his fastball averaging 90.9 mph compared to 91.7. It was still slightly down on Tuesday, but inching back in the right direction.

Means has time for one more start with Norfolk, as major leaguers can only stay on a rehab assignment for a maximum of 30 days. But after throwing 79 pitches, Means should be built up enough to start a major league game if the team feels like his stuff is ready.

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Means is one of three starters on the injured list, with Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells also sidelined. Bradish is also on a rehab assignment with the Tides, and is scheduled to start on Friday. Wells is not expected to be out long-term.

This will lead to decisions for the Orioles, who currently have a rotation with Corbin Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, Cole Irvin and Albert Suárez, who has allowed no runs in his 11 1/3 innings. They could go to a six-man rotation, as they did at times last year, or move multiple pitchers into the bullpen.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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