The most uncertain aspect of John Means’ offseason has nothing to do with his surgically repaired left elbow. It’s which golf club he can pull out of his bag that day and reliably hit toward the pin.
“Depends on the day,” said Means on Sunday evening at Crooked Crab Brewing Company in Odenton on the final day of the Orioles Caravan fan event.
As Means continues to work his way back to full strength following Tommy John surgery, golf has become a new hobby — and with it, the frustrations. Beyond that, the Orioles left-hander has found his recovery to be going according to plan, if not ahead of schedule.
He’s throwing from 140 feet with a crow hop and will begin to pitch from a half mound at the beginning of spring training in about two weeks. Means still aims for a midseason return to Baltimore.
When that return finally comes, he’ll find himself as part of a team with elevated expectations. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias declared the rebuild to be “behind us” on Friday, and throughout the weekend, Orioles players echoed a similar belief.
Means is among them, even though he’ll miss much of the start.
“I can’t wait,” Means said. “This team is so good and the vibe is so good, I just can’t wait to get back and try to do my part.”
Means said his body feels the best it ever has, particularly his left shoulder — an area of his body that has caused brief stints on the injured list previously. And while he can’t throw breaking balls yet, his fastball feels good out of his hand.
In his time away from full-time pitching, Means has enjoyed being around his son, McCoy, more often. He spends time outdoors and scratches his head over how to improve on the golf course. But he has also taken the time to study potential alterations to his game.
“I tinkered around a lot with my mechanics over the years, and I obviously pushed the wall a little bit sometimes,” Means said. “But in 2020 I was throwing harder, and then I kind of slowed it down in 2021. So I kind of want to do a little bit in between both of those, using my body, using the momentum, but also having control and being in control of my body. Just kind of toying around. It’s been fun exploring.”
Means threw just eight innings last season before left forearm tightness signaled the first sign of concern. Back then, he was the clear ace of a rotation with few other established arms.
But when Means returns, the rotation will look much different. Those unproven arms — such as Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells — proved themselves in the majors. The up-and-comers — Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall — will almost certainly be with the team, too. Baltimore also added veterans Cole Irvin and Kyle Gibson.
Then there will be Means, an All-Star in 2019 who threw a no-hitter in 2021. He’s stuck with tinkering on the golf course currently, but before long he’ll be back in the mix.
“Every week’s a new week, and it is a slow process, but there is something new every week,” Means said. “I just kind of take it day by day.”
Infielder Terrin Vavra said his main focus this offseason was “to be able to play everywhere.” As a utilityman last year, Vavra featured at second base and the corner outfield spots. But toward the end of the season, the 25-year-old began taking some reps at first base.
He continued that work this winter, knowing there’s an opportunity for playing time at first base behind Ryan Mountcastle.
“I know that’s an area where they like the idea of having a left-handed option, so want to be able to show I can be that,” Vavra said. “But at the end of the day, I’ll play anywhere.”