CINCINNATI — John Means has been waiting for this day.

It wasn’t Means’ first comeback attempt; that came at the end of last season when he returned from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery for four starts before he was held back again. He’s hoping, though, that Saturday will be his last, that his elbow is finally healthy and able to sustain being a major league pitcher again.

On Saturday, Means took his first step toward that. He pitched seven scoreless innings as the Orioles beat the Reds 2-1 thanks to home runs from Jorge Mateo and Adley Rutschman.

“That was unbelievable,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “To go out and do that, pitch seven shutout innings first time back from rehab, not having been on a big league mound for a while, that was way more than we anticipated and expected.”

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Craig Kimbrel, who blew two saves last weekend against the Athletics, almost cost the team another game. He allowed one run to score, then passed the game off to Yennier Cano with a one-run lead, one out and runners on both corners. Cano finished the job, salvaging Means’ strong return.

Means had surgery in 2022 and returned 17 months later after a back injury set the timeline back. He made four starts, giving up seven runs in 23 2/3 innings pitched. He looked just like the same Means who led the rotation during the dark days of 100 losses, and it came just in time for the Orioles to make a playoff push.

Means, though, couldn’t pitch in the playoffs. He was left off the American League Division Series roster due to elbow pain and was instructed to rest the elbow. That delayed his offseason throwing plan, and he arrived to training camp a month behind the other starters.

Adley Rutschman went 3-for-4 with a home run in the victory Saturday night. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

When the team traveled north to Baltimore for opening day, Means headed out on a rehab assignment. He used his full 30 days, making six starts with Triple-A Norfolk, treating them as Grapefruit League outings. They weren’t always pretty — he gave up five runs in one-third of an inning in one of his starts — but neither are anyone’s during spring training.

“There’s something about rehab starts. I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I wish I could tell you.”

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The Orioles didn’t know what to expect from Means on Saturday — coming back from a setback is tricky, and, although they don’t put much stock in rehab starts, they didn’t know where his confidence level would be.

Means had no doubts. His last outing was his best, and he felt he could carry that into a major league game.

He showed he was more than prepared. Means started his day with a 1-2-3 inning, including striking out Reds phenom Elly De La Cruz. He started to settle in during the second and third, giving up a hit each in those innings but nothing for the rest of the day.

“I felt pretty good,” Means said. “This team is playing so well, you just want to join them and feel that energy that they’re feeling. To be back, and to be able to feel that, is pretty incredible.”

Means struck out eight, his changeup especially effective, generating eight whiffs on that pitch. His fastball velocity, which dipped at times during his rehab assignment, was back to his normal average, hovering at 91.8 mph and peaking at 93.1. His slider and curveball also generated strikes.

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The Orioles, and Means, need this more than ever. Baltimore has Means and Kyle Bradish back from the injury list, but it has only replaced them with Tyler Wells and Grayson Rodriguez, who are out with no timelines. Means, meanwhile, is in his last year of arbitration and will be a free agent after this season.

That, though, will all come later. For now, the team is just happy to have Means back and healthy.

“I have a lot of respect for John Means and the journey he’s been through to get to this point,” James McCann, who caught Means on Saturday, said. “He’s going to be a big part of our rotation and a big part of our team. I know I’m not alone in saying we’re excited to have him back.”

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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