Baltimore Orioles right-hander Ben McDonald pitched well in his most recent start and his arm strength appears to be improving, but he said he still is experiencing persistent soreness in his right elbow.
The elbow problem forced him to start the season on the disabled list. Now, the plan is to see if he can pitch through it. He's scheduled to start tonight against the California Angels at Memorial Stadium.
"It's pretty uncomfortable until I get it loose," McDonald said. "They tell me that sometimes you just have to work through these things, but you have to think about it. Any time you're talking about a running back's knee or a pitcher's arm, you've got to be concerned."
McDonald has been hampered by a series of injuries over the past two seasons. He started the 1990 season on the disabled list with a pulled muscle in his rib cage, and his arrival in the major-league rotation was further delayed by a series of blisters on his pitching hand.
This spring, he was forced out of an exhibition start when he felt a twinge in his elbow. The injury was diagnosed as a strained flexor muscle, and McDonald spent the first two weeks of the regular season on the disabled list.
It is not unusual for pitchers to experience arm stiffness between starts, but it is a new experience for McDonald.
"This is not normal for me," he said. "I have never had it before, but as long as I can pitch with it, it doesn't matter."
He has made five starts so far this year, with varying results. He pitched very poorly his first two times out (10 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings), but has thrown well in two of his last three appearances.
Still, even at his best, he has not been the same, overpowering pitcher who won his first five starts of 1990. The 7.36 ERA does not lie.
"It [his arm] doesn't feel like it did last year yet," he said. "I was slow starting last year, too, but there was not this much tightness."
McDonald started a fad in the Orioles rotation when he started wearing an elastic sleeve on his elbow during games to keep his arm warm and loose. Now, he also wears it on the days he doesn't pitch.
"It's something that loosens up when I'm pitching, so I'm going to see how it goes," he said. "If it's still hurting a month or two from now, I'll have to start wondering."
Teammate Jeff Ballard knows all about arm soreness between starts. He tried to pitch through it early last year and pitched himself right out of the starting rotation. But he was coming off a pair of elbow operations. McDonald is coming back from a muscle strain.
"There are two kinds of arm stiffness," Ballard said. "There's the kind that costs you arm strength, and there's the kind that is just there and you can still pitch. All pitchers experience some soreness between starts. He might be at a stage where he just isn't used to pitching with a sore arm."
McDonald will start on regular rest tonight, but Orioles plan to use all four of their starters on three days rest the next time through the rotation.