Despite an optimistic medical report, there is a strong possibility it will be months rather than weeks before Glenn Davis returns to the Orioles' lineup.
A day after he was examined independently by three doctors in New York, surgery was ruled out as an immediate alternative for Davis. But the slugging first baseman, who is sidelined with a rare nerve injury in the neck that weakens a shoulder muscle, still is scheduled to get additional opinions before a final decision is made.
A complete recovery, if one is possible, will require at least several months. That means Davis almost certainly would be restricted to designated hitter duties if he returns this year.
It also means the experiment of playing Randy Milligan in leftfield is off until next season, assuming that both he and Davis are still with the Orioles. In addition, suddenly there are more DH at-bats available to Dwight Evans, and possibly for Leo Gomez.
With Davis out, the Orioles basically have last year's offense plus Evans, Gomez and Chris Hoiles, and minus Steve Finley and Mickey Tettleton. Whether they get Davis back this year, or whether his return will be in time to make a difference is purely conjecture at this point.
Nobody really knows because there isn't a case history to use as a comparison. The injury is so rare that it would hardly affect anyone leading a normal life. But, for an athlete requiring mobility of the shoulder the injury could be devastating, depending upon the extent of the damage to the nerve.
The optimistic hope is that Davis' rehabilitation is already under way, that the injury won't require surgery, and that he will be back soon enough to make a contribution this season.
"The best-case scenario," said Dr. Charles Silberstein, the Orioles' orthopedic specialist who is coordinating Davis' schedule, "would be for him to be taking batting practice in three, four or five weeks. It would be much longer before he'd be able to throw."
Pending other examinations, and opinions, the prescribed course of treatment calls for two weeks of physical therapy and exercise designed to strengthen the shoulder area.
During those two weeks it is anticipated that Davis also will be seen by other medical experts. At the end of that period, Davis' condition will be re-evaluated.
It has been determined that Davis injured the spinal accessory nerve, causing a weakness in the trapezius muscle that controls the motion in the shoulder. The injury is considered extremely rare, especially for an athlete.
"I've never seen it," admitted Silberstein, who originally guided Davis to Dr. James Campbell at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"From what I've read there are very few cases," said Dr. Silberstein, "and it can take several months to regain total strength in the shoulder."
After his examination, Campbell suggested surgery. But three doctors at the Cornell University Hospital for Special Surgery -- Dr. Peter Tsairis, Dr. Russell Warren and Dr. Andrew Weiland -- said the injury could be repaired in other ways.
"Their diagnosis is the same [as Campbell's], and their information was the same," said Silberstein. "The method of treatment is different."
The American League's designated hitter rule may speed Davis' return. "Hitting and throwing are quite different," said Silberstein. "Hitting is a two-handed action, with the arms close. There is greater control and not as much muscle imbalance."
Like the Orioles, Davis is encouraged by the latest report, but admits he really doesn't know exactly what is ahead of him. "I came back from New York very encouraged," he said. "The whole time was very positive and I was glad to hear what the doctors had to say.
"I really don't know what else to say -- I don't like being paraded around because of an injury. The only thing I'm doing is letting doctors examine me and tell me how to go about it [rehabilitation]. I'm very confident that the club is taking it in hand.
"Before it's over, I'll see a couple of other people," said Davis.
Asked if he thought he would play again this year, Davis said: "I don't know. I need to find out. But I don't think it's as bad as it seemed to be.
"I saw three doctors, not at the same time, and they all said the same thing. I'm much happier than I was the day before," said Davis.
Silberstein said he would be "surprised" if any other medical opinions recommended surgery and seemed emphatic that Davis could return to the playing field without it.
Asked if he thought Davis would play again this year, Silberstein said: "Yes." How soon, he wouldn't speculate, other than to repeat the possibility that Davis could be taking batting practice within a few weeks.
Yesterday Silberstein also talked to specialists in Toronto, who concurred with the decision to forgo surgery.
Davis probably will have at least one other examination, in California, possibly during the Orioles' upcoming West Coast trip. In the meantime, the only thing the Orioles know for sure is that Davis should have enough time to recover from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the starting lineup last week.