Allegany Communications Sports

Well, that didn’t take long.

The great Bob Kirk once said that in junior college athletics, a coach doesn’t really know what he is going to have until he sees who shows up on the first day of school.

That kind of ended up being the case for the Baltimore Orioles when pitchers, catchers and assorted position players reported to spring training in Sarasota, Florida on Wednesday. Though, in the case of starting pitchers Kyle Bradish and John Means, O’s general manager Mike Elias certainly knew what he was going to have, which may or may not have crystalised the decision for him to have made the trade for All-Star Corbin Burnes.

It was just the rest of us who didn’t know until Thursday.

Right-hander Bradish, who came out of nowhere to finish fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting, has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and will begin the season on the injured list.

Just to explain — and, no, I don’t sit around with Jim Palmer reading “Gray’s Anatomy” (it was a book before it was a TV series) — the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is the ligament that requires Tommy John elbow reconstruction if torn, so, keeping our friend Felix Bautista in mind, anytime you see Tommy John’s name in the same sentence with one of your favorite pitchers’ name, it grabs your attention, and not in the way you want your attention to be grabbed.

According to Elias, Bradish sprained the UCL when he began throwing in January and then received platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections in his elbow, which in some cases have helped pitchers return from UCL injuries. He will begin a throwing program tomorrow, a throwing program that takes time and patience.

“I’m not at a point where I want to start putting a timeline on when we’re going to see him in Major League action,” Elias said. “We’re prepping him for a lot of action in 2024, and we’re getting him ready for that as expeditiously and responsibly as possible.

“Everything is pointing in the right direction.”

As for Means, the veteran left-hander who missed last year’s AL Division Series with an elbow flare-up after returning from Tommy John, he began his offseason throwing routine a month later as part of his recovery, so he is a month behind the club’s other healthy starters. Elias said “he’s in a good spot,” but is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day.

The absence of Means and Bradish means Tyler Wells and Cole Irvin, starting pitchers who appeared to be on the outside looking in after the Burnes addition, will now get shots at the rotation that also includes Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer.

It didn’t seem possible the acquisition of Burnes could look even bigger, but now it does, and while Elias knew of the situation with Bradish and the status of Means, he said neither was a significant factor in pulling the trigger to get Burnes, but now that they have him he will certainly help fill the Bradish void in the short term.

Several starters remain on the free-agent market, including left-handers Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Hyun-jin Ryu, and the White Sox continue to play chicken (currently with the Yankees) with right-hander Dylan Cease. But Elias said he has confidence in the organization’s other options, especially since the expectation is Bradish and Means pitch for much of 2024.

The Orioles, Elias said, are “still looking (at pitching). I don’t know if I can prognosticate any additions. We’re remaining on the phones. I do want to be clear that we’re expecting both (Bradish and Means) back, so I don’t want to go crazy ringing the alarm bells there.”

Too late, pal. Alarm bells are being heard loud and clear. This is Baltimore, after all, and as they say in Baltimore, “We wouldn’t be paranoid if everybody wasn’t out to get us, hon.”

Folks in Baltimore have great memories, and Orioles fans remember the PRP/rest plan now being used by Bradish, as on reporting day last year it was announced reliever Dillon Tate would be out at the start of the season due to a flexor strain injury suffered the previous November. The hope was Tate would be back by late April or early May, so hopefully, that will be this April or early May.

Tate, of course, missed the entire season last year, but has seemingly had a great recovery as he was reportedly throwing “an easy 100” as late as last week. His return will be a true asset to what should be another good bullpen, but can now use some more depth with the departure of D.L. Hall in the Burnes trade, and Wells and Irvin now possibly in the running for starting roles.

The Orioles have very solid organizational depth, but with pitching there is never enough depth, so don’t discount anything concerning another possible pitching addition.

Elias, though, has a right to feel good about what he has, and he is saying all of the right things about Bradish in the right way. But he has to understand: That “Remain calm, all is well” just doesn’t play in Baltimore. It never has, and it never will.

Look, if you’re going to have injuries, the middle of February is the time to have them; and, hopefully, they won’t become long term. Keep in mind, these young O’s starters, beginning with Bradish, threw more innings last year than they ever had before. So …

Stay tuned.

Just 41 days …

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT