FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The first scare of spring training has hit the Orioles as pitcher Scott Erickson, the team's No. 2 starter, will be sidelined for an undetermined length of time because of elbow tenderness he first experienced Tuesday.
Erickson, shut down since attempting to warm up Tuesday, had little to say about his condition before yesterday's workout. Manager Mike Hargrove insisted the condition is believed to be minor but could not project when the team's workhorse might resume throwing. Erickson dressed but only watched yesterday's drill work on a back field.
Unable to toss a ball since Tuesday's shutdown, Erickson managed a few lobs yesterday, which Hargrove interpreted as further evidence of improvement.
"He was much better [Thursday] than the day before," Hargrove said, adding, "We don't think it's anything major."
Orioles officials remain reluctant to describe the problem except to say it does not involve the elbow joint, a positive sign. Erickson's stiffness emanates from an area above the elbow.
"I can't answer much. I've got to wait and see a bit," Erickson said. "I really don't have much to say."
Erickson declined to say when or how the condition began, but Hargrove said yesterday that Erickson experienced "puffiness" after waking Tuesday. He had thrown from a mound Monday without discomfort.
"It's no big deal," Erickson said.
Hargrove said, "On a scale of 1 to 10, it's not a 10," though he declined to say where on the scale his concern might fall.
Hargrove said it is too early to determine whether Erickson's condition will affect his workload this spring, but it appears likely that Erickson's scheduled start in the March 3 exhibition opener against a Cincinnati Reds split squad is threatened.
"The doctors examined him and their recommendation was to shut him down," Hargrove said. "We don't think it's anything major, but we're just trying to be cautious. We're not putting any timetable. It's one of those day-to-day deals."
Pitching coach Sammy Ellis said if Erickson remains unable to throw from a mound tomorrow, the spring rotation will have to be amended. Hoping to create a smooth transition from the Grapefruit League schedule to the regular season, Ellis has scheduled Erickson's spring assignments by working backward from his first scheduled regular-season start April 5 against Cleveland.
No matter the severity, the condition represents more than an annoyance to the staff's heavy lifter, who entered camp eager to amass innings.
Hargrove said that Erickson's current problem is not related to a strained forearm that prevented him from making his final scheduled turn last season. The missed assignment cost Erickson a shot at the American League innings lead, leaving him at 230 1/3.
Since being acquired from the Minnesota Twins in July 1995, Erickson has averaged more than 231 innings in four complete seasons with the Orioles. He also has won at least 15 games the past three seasons and at least 13 the past five. He has made at least 32 starts in every non-strike season since his 1990 rookie season.
Erickson, 32, began last season irritated over an uneven spring schedule that left him with only 26 1/3 innings and uncertain about his mechanics. Fallout included an 0-5 record in five April starts and a 1-8 record and 7.11 ERA on June 4. Erickson eventually righted himself to finish 15-12 with six complete games but wonders what might have been had he entered the season sharp.
Should Erickson miss next Friday's start, Hargrove and Ellis still will attempt to feed innings to the right-hander. Hargrove is planning at least two intrasquad games that might allow him greater leeway in righting the pitcher's schedule.
"The worst thing you can do is change things," Erickson said last weekend before his current condition arose.
Ellis left the clubhouse yesterday afternoon for the team hotel with a notebook in his hand and far more on his mind.