Kamieniecki forced to back out of start Right-hander has spasms, will sit for 'a couple days'

March 25, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Topping a spring of decidedly mixed results, Orioles No. 4 starting pitcher Scott Kamieniecki missed his scheduled outing yesterday against the New York Mets because of back spasms.

Unable to sleep or bend over, Kamieniecki projected his return at two or three days, but his status for Sunday's exhibition at Camden Yards against the Mets remains uncertain.

If not ready Sunday, Kamieniecki may not make his first scheduled start of the regular season April 3 against the Detroit Tigers.

The Orioles do not envision such a scenario. Manager Ray Miller, pitching coach Mike Flanagan and Kamieniecki downplayed the seriousness of his condition, though Kamieniecki said there was no way he could have thrown yesterday.

"You don't win championships in April," Kamieniecki said after receiving treatment. "I want to come out and start the season on a good note, but it's stupid of me to sit here and press it then miss April and miss May by risking further injury. It'll go away in a couple days."

Flanagan, meanwhile, intends to toggle the starting rotation in the season's second week. After beginning the year with an order of Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Jimmy Key, Kamieniecki and Doug Drabek, Flanagan will flop Erickson and Key. The move allows the left-handed Key to pitch between the staff's two right-handed mainstays, Mussina and Erickson.

Because of the Orioles' quirky early schedule, it also ensures Mussina will pitch on four days' rest despite open dates on April 6 and 8.

More subtly, the realignment suggests a concern over the potential strain placed on the bullpen. Key and Kamieniecki have histories of arm problems. Drabek, 35, hasn't pitched 200 innings since 1993.

"You think of Erickson as a workhorse guy who is going to throw a lot of innings," Miller said. "Once you get past cold weather you know Moose is going to go out there on a consistent basis. You get to Jimmy, Kammy and Doug and you start saying seven innings would be great and six would be ideal. If we can split Mussina and Erickson after the first round, you're giving the bullpen a little bit of a break."

Such preservation becomes even more important with Kamieniecki's status uncertain. Nerio Rodriguez started in place of Kamieniecki yesterday, allowing one earned run in five innings. Miller has not notified Rodriguez of his fate yet.

Kamieniecki said he began feeling back pain on Monday while chatting in the trainer's room with Mussina. He has had a string of troubled starts this spring. In four abbreviated outings he has allowed 30 runners in 12 2/3 innings while compiling a 9.24 ERA, highest among the 11 pitchers who will accompany the team to Baltimore. Kamieniecki has allowed 13 earned runs this spring while struggling with his control.

Flanagan has worked with Kamieniecki to tighten his mechanics while also addressing a balky curveball.

"There are some things you do in spring training you normally wouldn't do," Kamieniecki said. "I could go out there and throw fastballs and changeups, but come April and May when I need to throw a breaking ball, what do I do? I'm not having the same success now, but it might pay off down the road."

Kamieniecki, 33, couldn't afford experimentation last spring when he made the club as a nonroster invitee. Kamieniecki went on to craft a 10-6 record and 4.01 ERA and eventually signed a two-year, $6.2 million contract.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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