Shoulder shelves O's Fernandez

March 16, 1994|By PETER SCHMUCK | PETER SCHMUCK,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Left-hander Sid Fernandez walked off the mound in pain after facing just four batters in the Orioles' 7-6 exhibition victory over the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, and appears likely to miss the early weeks of the regular season with a sore shoulder.

It is the second physical setback of the spring for a pitcher who was considered a possible health risk when the Orioles handed him a three-year, $9 million contract in November. Shoulder soreness delayed his entry into the spring rotation for several days and may keep him out of action for much of the remaining three weeks of spring training.

"It's the same thing as last time. . . . That's all I'm going to say," Fernandez said.

He insisted the first time that it was nothing to be concerned about, but his terse, defensive posture yesterday left room to wonder just how significant the injury might become.

Manager Johnny Oates wasn't ready to speculate, but he was not encouraged by the look on Fernandez's face when he threw the last pitch of his abbreviated outing. Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman saw him grimace and rushed to the mound.

Fernandez is expected to be examined today, either in the Tampa/ St. Petersburg area or in Baltimore -- depending on the availability of the club's orthopedic specialists.

The Orioles are depending heavily on Fernandez to help fill out a five-man starting rotation that would be very thin without him. The club could get by for the first two weeks of the season with four starters, but the lack of pitching depth could become a real problem if the shoulder injury is serious.

Club officials already were scouring the two leagues for pitching help, but this could force them to step up their efforts. Assistant general manager Frank Robinson has been in contact with the Houston Astros about right-hander Pete Harnisch, though it appears the Orioles are unwilling to meet the substantial demands of Astros GM Bob Watson. New York Mets pitcher Bret Saberhagen also is said to be available, but there apparently has not been serious discussion about a deal with the Orioles.

Even if the injury is nothing more than simple shoulder inflammation, it is obvious that Fernandez, 31, will not be ready to pitch the third game of the regular season.

"I would say that if he is delayed at all, it would be very hard," Oates said. "He has thrown only 2 1/3 innings this spring with only three spring outings left. It is a critical time for him to be on the mound."

The way Oates has designed his April rotation, the Orioles do not need a fifth starter until April 17. Fernandez was expected to be the third starter and left-hander Arthur Rhodes figured to spend the first twoweeks of the regular season in the bullpen or the minor leagues.

Now, it appears that Jamie Moyer will move into the third spot in the rotation, Rhodes will go fourth and the club can only hope that Fernandez will be ready to pitch by the 17th. Even that nTC might be a stretch if Fernandez loses more than one spring appearance.

Fernandez said two weeks ago that the tendinitis condition was not unusual for him at the outset of spring training, so the Orioles had no reason to be particularly concerned. The situation appeared to be rectified after he threw without pain in his first exhibition start Thursday and came back two days later to throw on the side.

The Orioles went through something similar to this last season with pitching ace Mike Mussina, who developed a sore shoulder in May and suffered from recurring soreness in his shoulder and back throughout the season. Only now is he showing signs of a full recovery.

Mussina stepped up to four innings in yesterday's game and was encouraged despite the six hits and three runs he gave up to the Cardinals. The emphasis at this point is more on strength and endurance than statistics.

"I feel good," Mussina said. "I think I'm getting my arm strength back. Bos [Bosman] said that I threw harder in the fourth inning than I did in the second or third. After not throwing for three months, getting up to speed and maintaining it is a big goal."

It hasn't been a perfect spring, but Mussina has made steady progress since he got the go-ahead to resume throwing in December.

"Some days are better than others," he said, "but the good days have far outnumbered the below-average days. It has been a long time since I felt like I could do whatever I wanted to do and throw whatever I want to throw at any point in the count.

"Now, if I can just do it for seven innings instead of three or four, we'll be right where we want to be."

SID'S SORROWS

A summary of Sid Fernandez's injuries:

* Aug. 4-22, 1987: On disabled list with an irritated tendon in the front of his left shoulder.

* March 14-July 18, 1991: On disabled list with a broken left wrist after being hit by a grounder in his first appearance of spring training.

* Sept. 7, 1991: Underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, which had begun bothering him in August. There was a tear in the cartilage under his left kneecap and a tear in the front part of the medial cartilage.

* May 1-July 30, 1993: On disabled list; underwent arthroscopic surgery May 17 to repair a small cartilage tear in his right knee.

* March 15, 1994: Walked off the mound in pain with a sore shoulder after facing just four batters. He likely will miss the early weeks of the season.

7/8

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