O's Hammonds given green light Healed disk brings relief to outfield concerns

November 19, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Orioles breathed an organizational sigh of relief yesterday when test results indicated that top outfield prospect Jeffrey Hammonds has made a strong recovery from the neck injury that hindered him throughout the 1993 season.

Hammonds suffered a herniated cervicalo disk early in the season and was hampered for months by radiating pain in his shoulder and back. Club officials feared that surgery might be necessary to correct the problem, but a magnetic resonance imaging performed earlier this week showed that the disk had returned to its normal shape.

Johns Hopkins Hospital neck and back specialist Dr. Henry Dudley told the club that the herniated disk had "resolved and healed," and indicated that Hammonds could begin normal off-season workouts in early December.

"That was great news today," said general manager Roland Hemond. "Last night [Wednesday], I talked to Dr. Dudley, and he was very encouraged by what the radiologist told him, but he had not seen the MRI. He told us today that it was healed. It [the disk] was bulging before, but it is back where it is supposed to be."

The injury that Hammonds suffered caused the semi-soft center of the disk to bulge outward, contacting the nerves in the spinal column and causing the pain. If the problem had not been corrected through rest and therapy, Hammonds faced the possibility of surgery that might have sidelined him for the 1994 season.

"Dr. Dudley had recommended rest and therapy at the outset," Hemond said. "He said with youth on your side, very often you can recover without surgery. He'll start working out in December. We'll still treat this with a degree of cautiousness, but all indications are that he'll be ready for Opening Day."

What does all this mean? It means that the Orioles may be in a much better position to improve the pitching staff than they were when Hammonds' status was uncertain. It means that there is far less motivation to pursue a trade for New York Mets outfielder Bobby Bonilla and far more motivation to spend his potential salary somewhere else.

"That's a pretty good trade we made today, and it didn't cost us a thing," said manager Johnny Oates. "That's outstanding news. It really takes a load off your mind."

Hemond would not say that the club will give up on a possible Bonilla trade, but he indicated that the improved status of Hammonds would put the Orioles in a position to reassess their off-season priorities.

"You can always use more depth on your ballclub," Hemond said, "but you feel more comfortable with your outfield situation than you did. You explore all sorts of possibilities, but this might give you the opportunity to look more toward pitching."

The Orioles have taken an aggressive approach to their off-season improvement project, but the uncertain status of Hammonds and closer Gregg Olson was threatening to steal the economic thunder of the new ownership group.

Managing general partner Peter Angelos said early on that he was willing to raise the club's payroll by as much as $10 million, but the Orioles figured to need nearly that much to compensate for the potential loss of two important players.

"This helps you to be optimistic," Hemond said. "We went into this thinking, 'If he [Hammonds] is well, it's a bonus.' Now, you feel you got your bonus early.

"He's very thrilled. He said he felt so good that he thought the results would be positive. It's a big morale boost."

The latest reports on Olson also are promising, but there is no way for anyone to know whether he'll be 100 percent healthy on Opening Day. He suffered a partially torn ligament in his right elbow midway through the season and still faces the possibility of elbow reconstruction that could threaten his career.

The positive report on Hammonds appears to remove one troublesome variable from the off-season equation.

Now, the Orioles either can suspend their attempt to acquire Bonilla, or go through with it and then try to package center fielder Mike Devereaux in a deal for another starting pitcher or a solid reliever.

The Orioles are working hard to sign veteran left-hander Sid Fernandez, but there still is room in the starting rotation for another good arm. The emphasis figures to shift in that direction.

"I felt it already was in that direction," Oates said. "There are other areas that we've discussed, but I've said all along that I felt with the same ballclub with improved pitching, we'd be better off."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.