Key pushes return to mound Three cortisone shots put lefty on schedule

Sidelight

July 16, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In the next two weeks, the Orioles must settle on a direction. Jimmy Key will be watching closely.

Far along in an admittedly "aggressive" rehabilitation from an inflamed left rotator cuff that has put him on the sideline since May 21, Key is projected by pitching coach Mike Flanagan for a return to the roster on July 31.

That is also the deadline for teams to trade without seeking another round of waivers.

Should the Orioles decide to concede the season and begin trading some of their 11 pending free agents, Key will have pushed himself for nothing.

"I think at that point I'll have a conversation with somebody about whether they would want me to be out there vs. somebody else younger," Key said before last night's game against the Texas Rangers. "To me, if they're going in that direction I don't know why they'd want me taking innings from somebody who might be getting experience. That doesn't make sense."

Key will throw to hitters today for the first time since suffering the injury. The confrontations will take place during batting practice when Key is scheduled to make 40 pitches after a 30-pitch warm-up. The combination of heat and increased exertion represents a significant step. Key may make a rehab start as early as next week. When he has persuaded the club he is capable of pitching beyond five innings, he will be reactivated. His first start is tentatively set for Aug. 2 at Kansas City.

"Like I've been saying, I'm going to push it. The schedule's running out. Coming back in the middle of September for two weeks isn't going to do anybody much good. You do what you can now and try to get through the rest of the season. I'm being aggressive at this point. But the time frame demands it," Key said.

Key, 37, already has accepted three cortisone injections into the shoulder, the maximum allowed in a calendar year. Should he suffer a setback, he will not only call this a season but may end his productive career.

"My only concern is to make as many starts as I can make this year for these guys. After that is really not a concern of mine. I'll deal with that after this team goes as far as it can go," he said.

For his part, Key abstains from predictions. He has seen fellow injured starter Scott Kamieniecki suffer a series of setbacks.

"I don't want to tell anybody something that's not going to happen," Key insisted. "If I'm ready to pitch, then that's when it is. It still hurts. But it's at a point now where I can throw if it doesn't get any worse. I'm rushing it. And I don't expect to be throwing as well when I do come back. I haven't pitched in awhile. But I'm usually a pretty fast starter in spring training. I'm hoping for that."

Before he went down, Key was 4-3 with a 4.06 ERA in 10 starts. He had averaged 6 1/3 innings in those starts. His loss coupled with Kamieniecki's disc-related injury coincided with the Orioles' tumble from contention. Despite a recent run of competence, the Orioles ranked 13th in pitching (5.01 ERA) until Tuesday when they crept ahead of the Royals.

Key admits he would be disappointed by a clubhouse purge. Manager Ray Miller has based his undying optimism for a wild-card berth on Key's possible return.

"I'd hate to see it because I think the team can put together the kind of streak to challenge for the postseason. I think we can make a run," Key said. "We do have a lot of ground to make up."

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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