Slow to recover, Key faces uncertain future 'Definitely worse,' veteran hopes he's suited for bullpen


August 02, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They are whispers but they are loud enough for Jimmy Key to hear. After two months of rehabilitating his irritated rotator cuff, Thursday's troubled start in Detroit and Friday's deal for Toronto right-hander Juan Guzman, Key may have started his final game for the Orioles.

Manager Ray Miller would not say yesterday when or if Key would again start, only that the veteran left-hander will work from the bullpen in the near future. Key, meanwhile, admitted yesterday that his recovery from his eventful three-inning, 80-pitch outing against the Tigers has been more difficult than from a six-inning rehab start in Frederick July 24.

"If don't know if it was throwing that many pitches five days apart, or what it was. But it's definitely worse," Key said. "It's an unknown.

"I don't know if throwing that many pitches. I don't know if my arm's going to be able to do that. But it definitely was worse."

Key met with Miller on Friday and received extensive treatment yesterday. His availability for bullpen duty remains a question. He already has accepted three cortisone injections, the maximum allowable for one season. He admits to now pitching with discomfort.

"I'll let my arm tell me what I can do," he said.

On Thursday his arm prevented him from effectively using his changeup or spotting his fastball. The combination resulted in nine base runners and three runs after being handed a 4-0 lead. Pitching coach Mike Flanagan described his performance as "flat" beginning with an awkward warmup.

"I need to pitch. I haven't pitched in so long. The rust is there," Key admitted. "I have to find a way to throw with the discomfort I have in my shoulder and find a way to be effective. Probably the more I get on the field the better it will be for me at this point than waiting every five days to pitch. I don't know if my arm's going to be able to throw 90 or 100 pitches every fifth day."

Put on the disabled list following his May 20 start in New York, Key was activated last Tuesday. The Orioles, absent a left-handed starter, were encouraged by his steady progress during an aggressive rehabilitation but disappointed along with Key by his performance in Detroit.

Key initially balked at serving as a five-inning starter upon his return. However, the lingering ache has proved persuasive.

"I'm under contract with these guys for this season. I have an obligation to try to do what I can to help this team. My job is to get myself on the field and help in whatever capacity I can," he said. "Obviously, the best-case scenario for me is starting because that's what I've always done, if my arm would allow me to do that."

For the moment, Key slides into the role vacated by Arthur Rhodes. However, Key's condition makes it a necessity for Miller to use him whenever he warms up.

On the final season of a two-year contract, Key, 37, has said he will retire rather than undergo additional arm surgery.

"Jimmy's a competitor," Miller said. "He hates that anybody might think he's sitting around not doing everything he possibly can while he's drawing a check. That might make him different from some other guys."

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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