O's aren't in panic over Fernandez

March 17, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

PLANT CITY, FLA — PLANT CITY, Fla. -- The Orioles have a better idea of what is wrong with left-hander Sid Fernandez's sore shoulder today, but they still cannot say with any certainty when he'll return to the starting rotation.

Medical tests performed in Baltimore yesterday showed that Fernandez is suffering from bursitis and will be sidelined at least until late April.

"He has been told to remain idle for two weeks," said general manager Roland Hemond, "then he'll be re-evaluated. It's not the worst news by any means. In the past, when he has had this kind of thing in spring training, he has come back quickly."

How quickly is up for debate. If Fernandez is cleared to throw on April 1, it figures to take him at least three weeks to work into game shape. He has thrown only 2 2/3 innings in spring training, so he essentially will be starting from scratch when he returns to the mound.

The 31-year-old left-hander originally was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis when he came up sore after an intrasquad performance in Sarasota, but the club decided to find out for sure after he suffered a recurrence of the inflammation in Tuesday's exhibition appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Fernandez flew to Baltimore early yesterday, where he underwent a CAT scan and an arthrogram under the direction of orthopedists Dr. Michael Jacobs and Dr. Charles Silberstein.

They concluded that the problem was bursitis instead of tendinitis and prescribed rest and exercise therapy.

There is the real possibility that Fernandez won't be ready to join the rotation until well into May, but Hemond said yesterday he had not stepped up his efforts to acquire another pitcher for the club's most promising divisional challenge in a decade.

"It doesn't change our approach today," Hemond said. "When we open the season, there are a lot of off days, so we're well protected."

That may be true, but the Orioles will use up that protection during the three weeks or more that Fernandez seems certain to miss at the start of the season.

"We're not panicking," said assistant general manager Frank Robinson, who has been trying to talk the Houston Astros out of right-hander Pete Harnisch. "We're doing the same things we've been doing since we've been down here. We're watching what the other clubs are doing and seeing what's available."

The trouble is, the other clubs are watching the Orioles, too, which may make it more difficult to strike a deal now that the injury to Fernandez has made headlines. The greater the need, the harder the bargain that another club is likely to drive.

The Astros already have made it clear that any deal for Harnisch is going to have to involve at least one high quality prospect, and the prospect that keeps coming up is Jeffrey Hammonds. If that is the price, the Orioles figure to stay within the organization and hope for the best.

"I think we could survive with the guys we have," Robinson said. "Good pitching is hard to come by. We want to add quality, not just add a pitcher to add a pitcher."

The early-season schedule allows the Orioles to buy some time with Arthur Rhodes working as the fourth starter. The club would not need a fifth starter until April 17. That spot could go to reliever Alan Mills or one of several Triple-A starters.

Right-hander Mike Oquist, who is scheduled to start one-half of tomorrow's split-squad doubleheader, appears to be the most promising minor-league possibility.

"I think we have people here who could do it," Robinson said. "I think we have some talent here."

If news of the injury might make it harder to close one of the deals the Orioles have pursued the past few months, Hemond said it also could help uncover some options not previously explored.

"Sometimes, it leads to hearing from other clubs," he said. "You get calls you normally wouldn't receive."

Hemond, ever the optimist, chose to put the situation into perspective with an anecdote from early in his front-office career.

"I remember when I was with the Braves, we acquired Bobby Thomson and he broke his ankle in spring training," he said. "We had to call up a kid who wasn't even with us in camp -- a kid named Hank Aaron. You know me, I'm an optimist. If something happens, it presents an opportunity for someone else."

It is a nice thought, but the Orioles would just as soon get a return on one of their biggest investments of the off-season. Fernandez was known to be a health risk when he signed a three-year, $9 million contract, but he had never had any serious arm problems.

Pitching coach Dick Bosman has talked to former New York Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre on several occasions and has been assured that the soreness is nothing out of the ordinary.

"From what I've seen and the things that I've heard from his former pitching coach, I'm optimistic that he'll be back throwing soon," Bosman said.

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