Kamieniecki to have neck surgery today Rehabilitation expected to take up to four months

Orioles notebook

September 15, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles pitcher Scott Kamieniecki will have surgery today to alleviate pain associated with a herniated disk in his neck. The procedure, which probably will involve fusing the area, will take place at Case Western University Hospital in Cleveland, and the right-hander can expect up to four months of rehabilitation.

This type of surgery also would keep Kamieniecki in a neck brace for about two months before beginning to rehab, which would carry into spring training and make him unavailable at the start of the season.

Kamieniecki, who was examined in Cleveland yesterday, went on the disabled list for a third time Aug. 22 after lasting just 2 2/3 innings against Cleveland the previous day. It was Kamieniecki's only start since May, and it lowered his record to 2-6 with a 6.75 ERA.

He returned to his home in Flint, Mich., earlier this month and had been performing some light exercises. He hasn't been able to throw.

Signed to a two-year, $6.3 million contract over the winter, Kamieniecki was limited to only 54 2/3 innings. He'll turn 35 on April 19, with no assurances of rejoining the rotation. The club would like to add at least one more starter, preferrably a left-hander.

Plans for Coppinger

Whether Rocky Coppinger has earned another start depends on "if we keep winning," said manager Ray Miller. Facing the Anaheim Angels Sunday, Coppinger allowed one run through four innings before leaving after the fifth with a 7-4 lead.

It was Coppinger's first start in the majors since May 9, 1997. Even if it's his last this season, he still could be kept busy.

"I'm still thinking about him as a reliever," Miller said. "He did a good job being quicker to the plate, he's got a better changeup. We'll evaluate all that shortly."

Miller hasn't committed to a fifth starter. "We might just go with four. I don't know," he said.

Rookie Sidney Ponson is scheduled to start tonight for the first time since opening a blister on his right index finger during a Sept. 2 game against Chicago. It bothered him a few times while throwing his curveball in the bullpen Sunday, and the club will check it today.

If he can't pitch, Miller will go with whichever relievers are most rested.

Fussell not by numbers

Farm director Syd Thrift chooses not to judge Chris Fussell by his minor-league numbers, which isn't a bad approach considering the right-hander is a combined 12-20 the last two seasons while pitching at three levels. Often a victim of poor run support, Fussell set a Bowie record last season with eight consecutive losses, but the Baysox went 8-1 in starts when he didn't receive a decision.

Fussell, 22, will make his Orioles debut out of the bullpen, then could receive a start before the season ends. He went 5-2 with a 3.99 ERA at Triple-A Rochester this year, and 3-7 with a 4.26 ERA at Bowie.

"What we look for is improvement, and he's shown a lot of improvement," Thrift said. "He's always had a fine arm. He's got an above-average fastball, an above-average curveball, an above-average slider -- which he didn't have last year -- and an outstanding straight change.

"He just got in one of those situations where he couldn't win for losing. This year, even though his record at Bowie wasn't that impressive, his performance exceeded the statistics."

Farm outlook bright

If Fussell begins next season at Rochester, he'll join an impressive group of prospects. Finally, some of the organization's most promising players won't be nestled in the lower ranks of the farm system.

Once a refuge for aging retreads with diminished skills and little chance of helping the Orioles, Rochester could be home to infielders Calvin Pickering, Ryan Minor, Jerry Hairston, Augie Ojeda, Jesse Garcia and David Lamb. Outfielder Danny Clyburn and Willis Otanez, who played three positions this season, could return if unable to make the club in spring training. And reliever Gabe Molina, who had 24 saves at Bowie, should begin the season with the Red Wings.

"This year, we've had to take it on the chin a little bit, especially during the losing streaks," Miller said. "I wish radio-show people would understand that you only have four guys on the bench, and when two are hurt there isn't a whole heck of a lot you can do. You need to rest people and you can't. The reason for that was a lack of talent at the Triple-A level.

"You can always get a body to sit on the bench, but you need people who can play and help you. It's not impossible to ask your minor-league system to produce an impact player every three years."

Around the horn

Hairston changed his uniform number from 39 to 13. He prefers 17, the number worn by his father, the former Chicago White Sox infielder of the same name. But he's not about to ask B. J. Surhoff for it. The Orioles took their team photo yesterday. Brady Anderson wore roller blades. Reminder: Saturday's game against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards has been moved to 1: 15 p.m. to accommodate the Fox Network, but Sunday's game remains at 8: 05 p.m. because it's being broadcast by ESPN radio.

Pub Date: 9/15/98

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