Snakebit DeShields pulls muscle, is carried off


Club calls injury `mild,' but says DL possible, too


CHICAGO -- A trying season became even more difficult for Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields last night. While beating out an infield single in the fourth inning, DeShields just crumbled beyond the first base bag, clutching at his right hamstring.

DeShields appeared to have suffered at least a significant pull. Trainer Richie Bancells and manager Ray Miller helped DeShields from the field. The player's right leg dragged as he was carried off.

The injury was deemed "mild" as DeShields was classified as "day-to-day." However, the Orioles have established a pattern of minimizing or even cloaking injuries the past two seasons under the guise of competitive balance.

"It'll either be a DL situation or four or five days," offered assistant general manager Bruce Manno, who said DeShields would be examined further before a final prognosis is given.

DeShields fractured his left thumb in a March 4 intrasquad game, and when he returned April 11 he got off to a slow start. Despite missing time with a back injury and just recently for the birth of his third child, DeShields is hitting .363 over his last 34 games, with 21 runs and 14 RBIs, raising his overall average from .135 to .274.

Should DeShields end up on the disabled list, a call-up of Jerry Hairston would appear the most logical move. Jesse Garcia, who began the season with the Orioles while DeShields was out, is out with a shoulder strain.

Bullpen's rest ends

Once a place pitchers entered at their own risk, the Orioles bullpen had assumed the pace of a retirement community the past two weeks before going 5 1/3 innings last night. The 11-inning win reversed a run of solid starts that had consistently pushed into the seventh inning and beyond.

Entering last night's game, a once-overtaxed bullpen had surrendered runs in only one of its last five appearances, dropping its ERA from 6.08 to 5.71.

"Because we're not out there as much, everybody is back in their roles," said middle reliever Ricky Bones, seen only six times since May 22 after appearing 15 times in the season's first six weeks. "It's a good thing because guys are fresh. It can be a bad thing if you don't stay sharp."

Miller predicts his team will surge as its starting pitching comes together while teams with lesser rotations will not be able to ride their bullpens much longer. While Miller was forced to torch his 'pen during April and much of May, the Orioles had required 151 relief appearances, fifth-fewest in the league to Chicago, Seattle, New York and Anaheim, going into last night. The rotation has crafted four complete games in its last 13 starts compared to three in its first 53.

"Everything works off your starting pitching," Miller said recently. "Once these guys get going, you start seeing things differently. You begin the season with guys slotted for certain roles, but when you're consistently going to the bullpen in the fourth and fifth inning, it's hard to stay with that."

The club endured a 6.49 ERA in April compared to 5.02 in May and 4.23 for June entering last night, when only Arthur Rhodes (three runs in two innings) among five relievers was charged with a run. Walks remain a source of frustration for Miller as the Orioles have allowed 284 in 585 2/3 innings. (Their offense is second in the league with 283 walks.)

Since June 1, the bullpen has been forced to pitch more than two innings only six times compared to 13 times in May and 15 times in April.

Long reliever Doug Johns hasn't been seen since the first game of a June 8 doubleheader against Florida. Before his two shutout innings last night, Mike Timlin had appeared only six times this month and doesn't have a save since May 27. The staff's 12th pitcher, Rocky Coppinger, has been summoned only five times since being recalled from Rochester May 23. Even de facto closer Rhodes had been seen only four times this month before blowing two leads last night; however, the left-hander's availability is complicated by health concerns.

In contrast to early this season, when relievers struggled against Dead Arm Syndrome, several have begun throwing late in games under the supervision of bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks merely to remain sharp.

"Elrod is good about letting us know where we stand in terms of days off. After a certain point in a game, some guys can throw because their role is no longer needed," said Bones, before allowing a walk and an RBI single without an out last night. "Hey, it would be OK with me if we weren't needed the rest of the season as long as we won them all."

Fetters surgery delayed

The Orioles remain vague about when reliever Mike Fetters will undergo surgery for removal of bone spurs. The club originally thought he would be operated on by Los Angeles orthopedic doctor Lewis Yocum last week but the procedure has been tentatively rescheduled for Tuesday.

While the delay may seem negligible, the Orioles remain hopeful Fetters will be able to rehabilitate in time to return in late August or September.

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