Clark's left thumb is latest tough break in O's broken season


Club's top hitter to miss at least several weeks

April 19, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Already reeling from too little pitching, the Orioles lost their most consistent bat, Will Clark, for at least several weeks yesterday when the first baseman broke his left thumb during the first inning of a 6-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Clark took a one-hop shot off the bat of Willie Greene off the tip of the finger, breaking it above the joint. After undergoing X-rays, Clark returned to Baltimore, where he will be examined today by team hand specialist Dr. Hugh Baugher. A less extensive break of second baseman Delino DeShields' left thumb March 4 kept him out of the lineup until April 11.

Coming on the same day that third baseman Cal Ripken experienced a serious relapse of back pain believed to be associated with a herniated disk, the loss of Clark further threatens a season that has begun with little except frustration.

"We lost the game. We lost our first baseman. We maybe lost Cal," said manager Ray Miller.

"Cal's had it rough for a while now. Will's having a great season. It's tough not having either of them," said center fielder Brady Anderson.

The Orioles now must scramble to address their broken roster. It's certain Clark will be placed on the disabled list before tomorrow night's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Ripken's status is less clear, although he will likely be unavailable for at least two games.

Pending examinations of both players, the Orioles will promote one or two players from Triple-A Rochester. The issue is complicated if Ripken is not placed on the disabled list.

General manager Frank Wren met at length with Miller on last night's team charter to St. Petersburg. Wren also consulted with director of player personnel Syd Thrift, who has been following Rochester. The shellshocked Miller has consistently lobbied for adding a 12th pitcher to a disintegrating staff.

Another option is to promote power-hitting first baseman Calvin Pickering to create a platoon with right-handed-hitting Jeff Conine. Conine, acquired for pitcher Chris Fussell in an April 1 trade with the Kansas City Royals, is considered a superior defensive player to Clark. So far Conine has been used by Miller almost exclusively as a pinch hitter.

"It's tough losing a .400 hitter. Obviously, you'd like to bring Pickering right away, but then again maybe we'd want to go to a 12th pitcher and see what Cal's situation is," Miller said.

Batting ahead of cleanup hitter Albert Belle, Clark leads the team with a .370 average and enjoyed a 10-game hitting streak until going 0-for-5 Saturday. His 29 total bases ranked ninth in the American League entering yesterday's games.

Miller described the injury as leaving him "sick to your stomach." Greene's shot struck Clark on the tip of his thumb, bending it backward. The ball ricocheted to DeShields at second base. Clark was composed enough to retreat to the bag where he took the throw for the inning's third out.

Clark ran off the field, through the dugout, and up the runway into the clubhouse. "I knew it was bad when he kept running," said Anderson.

When head trainer Richie Bancells touched the thumb, Clark recoiled in pain. He was then sent for X-rays, which confirmed a fracture.

"Things are bad enough. Then you lose a guy with a .400 on-base percentage hitting right at .400. It's a tough loss. Thankfully, our GM got Conine for us," Miller said.

For Clark, the thumb is a painful addition to a litany of often freak injuries that followed him in five seasons with the Texas Rangers. Clark was on the disabled list five times in 1996-97, missed 21 games due to injuries in 1995 and played only 110 games during the strike-shortened '94 season. Before appearing in 149 games last season, Clark averaged 115 games his first four seasons with the Rangers.

Kamieniecki progressing

The Orioles remain hopeful that pitcher Scott Kamieniecki will be able to return to the rotation by early May. Wren said yesterday that Kamieniecki will make a final appearance at the club's Sarasota, Fla., minor-league complex, a two-inning stint on Wednesday.

Kamieniecki will then attempt a three-inning start Sunday at Bowie and is then projected for a five-inning start April 30 for an undetermined affiliate.

Around the horn

Former Blue Jays and Orioles general manager Pat Gillick attended the final two games of the series, mingling with former associates from both teams. Gillick, part of a group that recently purchased SkyDome, also is assisting USA Baseball in putting together a team for the upcoming Pan Am Games. Quietly, shortstop Mike Bordick is tied for the league lead with seven multi-hit games. Bordick was held hitless yesterday for only the third game this season.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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