Clark thumbs a ride to Anaheim

Sidelight

Finger is still tender, but first baseman rejoins O's for West Coast trip

May 24, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Will Clark still has pain in his left thumb, which was fractured five weeks ago. The swelling hasn't completely subsided. The strength hasn't fully returned to the hand.

So, is he ready to come off the disabled list?

"Yes," he says without hesitation.

The Orioles will activate Clark tomorrow in Anaheim, just in time to start a nine-game West Coast trip. He played in two extended spring training games in Florida before flying to Baltimore yesterday and having the thumb re-examined. He took batting practice yesterday, along with the usual assortment of jabs at teammates.

"Compared to a week ago, it's a lot better," Clark said.

He conceded there's still some discomfort when he swings a bat, "but you've just got to deal with that."

The Orioles have been dealing with the void in their lineup since Clark was hit on the thumb while fielding a sharp grounder from Toronto's Willie Greene on April 18. He was batting .370 with three homers and seven RBIs in 12 games, and offered solid protection for cleanup hitter Albert Belle.

Manager Ray Miller considered activating Clark yesterday and starting him against Texas right-hander Mike Morgan, who lasted only two-thirds of an inning.

"We all decided that it would probably be more intelligent to wait two more days," Miller said.

Before coming to that conclusion, he wrote in Clark's name as the designated hitter, with Jeff Conine playing first base.

"I'll probably flip-flop the two," Miller said before Conine rapped an RBI double in the first inning. "I want to keep Conine in there. He's swinging the bat good. And I'll also be able to DH B. J. [Surhoff] once in a while."

The Orioles will need to clear room for Clark's return, and Miller said yesterday that he'd like to keep 12 pitchers.

The most vulnerable position player is third baseman Willis Otanez, who made his first appearance in six games last night, grounding out as a pinch hitter in the eighth, and is mired in an 8-for-53 slump. Otanez is out of options and the club is trying to trade him.

Clark, meanwhile, was trying to keep his stay in Florida as brief as possible. Playing in sweltering heat, he went 4-for-11 with six walks while leading off every inning.

"I asked him what it was like down there and he said, `Hot,' " Miller said. "He told me it was a good idea to go down there, but it was so hot he was thinking about making an out so he could get a drink of water."

Considering how long it had been since he saw live pitching, Clark found the experience beneficial despite the conditions, which included an infield he rated as poor as Little League.

"Needless to say, you're facing a bunch of kids down there, but the thing was getting some swings in and evaluate contact," he said. "I found out if I make good contact, there is no pain, and if I make bad contact, there's a lot of pain."

Clark still hasn't decided what type of protective device he'll wear on the thumb, if he chooses to use one at all.

"I've been sort of trying to make up things as I go to see what's more comfortable and less comfortable," he said.

"Whatever I can do to keep it from hurting, but not be bulky, that's what I'll do."

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