DETROIT -- What the Orioles have seen from Jim Poole thi year is exactly what they expected. The problem is they expected to see it five months earlier.
Poole reported to spring training with tenderness in his left shoulder, and it took an entire minor-league season before he made a complete recovery. As a result, monitoring the left-handed reliever will be one of the club's top off-season priorities.
"I haven't talked to him yet, but we've already outlined with the front office and the doctors what we want him to do this winter," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said before last night's game with the Detroit Tigers. "In addition to continuing his weight program, he's got to do some light, maintenance throwing all winter long.
"I'm not sure when he started throwing last year -- I'll find out [from him] before the week is over -- but I will know when he starts this year," Oates said.
Last year, in an effort to rectify his annual slow starts in spring training, Poole cut back on his throwing, in the belief it would build up his arm strength. It was, he now realizes, a mistake.
"This year has been a rough learning experience," said Poole. "Hopefully, it will be remembered for a long time."
After joining the Orioles on July 30 last year, Poole teamed with Mike Flanagan to give Oates a pair of effective left-handers in the bullpen. He had a 3-2 record and a 2.00 ERA while allowing only 19 hits and striking out 34 in 36 innings.
He went to spring training with a job virtually guaranteed -- but was never in the picture once the preseason began.
"I worked as hard in the off-season as I ever have -- but I didn't throw," said Poole. "Ever since college, I've always thrown all year long and I thought it would help to give my arm a rest.
"I've always had trouble getting started in spring training, and I thought that would help. I did all my weight training, which I think has helped me stay strong throughout the year.
"I think that's the reason my velocity usually goes up later in the year. But shutting those [throwing] muscles down obviously didn't work."
Although he admits to a preference for having two left-handers in the bullpen, Oates doesn't necessarily think Poole's absence had a great effect on the Orioles this year. "Actually, the way the league lines up, except for the Yankees, not many teams throw a lot of left-handers at you," said Oates.
Nevertheless, Flanagan's ineffectiveness as the lone left-handed reliever necessitated the Orioles picking up Pat Clements. And if Poole is going to figure in the Orioles' plans for next year, it will be imperative for him to be ready at the start of spring training.
"I won't stop throwing this year," said Poole, who will work his off-season schedule around the impending birth of his first child, which wife Kim is due to deliver in the next two weeks. "I won't be throwing off a mound, but I'll play long toss right up until we start regular workouts [in January].
"I've come to the conclusion that I've got to keep the [shoulder] muscles fine-tuned all year long," he said.
If this year's lesson was an expensive one, Poole is hoping it will at least pay long-term dividends.