Erickson to put right elbow to test tomorrow

Orioles notebook

Starter to throw for 1st time since experiencing stiffness

February 27, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Still waiting to exhale, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Sammy Ellis hope they'll only have to hold their breath until tomorrow to receive reassurance that starting pitcher Scott Erickson is sound.

Erickson, sidelined since Tuesday with stiffness behind his right elbow, plans to test himself during a much-anticipated bullpen session tomorrow. If he emerges without discomfort, Erickson will work again on Wednesday, then make his scheduled March 3 appearance in the Orioles' exhibition opener against a Cincinnati Reds split squad.

"He's better today than he was yesterday," Hargrove said following yesterday's 3 1/2-hour workout at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. "It is progressing and we're still on schedule."

The outlook represents a marked improvement. Early last week team officials were concerned by a condition that lacked an identifiable cause.

Hargrove said Erickson's condition has improved significantly each of the last three days. However, Erickson yesterday abstained from anything more than playing first base during pitchers' fielding drills. Erickson insists the condition is "no big deal" and has been reluctant to discuss specifics.

Hargrove said Friday that Erickson sleeping in an awkward position may have been responsible for the flare-up.

Erickson's availability for next Friday's exhibition game is significant but not critical to the schedule outlined by Ellis with input from Erickson and fellow veteran Mike Mussina. Starting Erickson in the exhibition opener is the first step in a predictable work cyle designed to carry the innings monster to his first regular-season start April 5.

"If we have to move him back a day, we can. So far, we're OK," said Hargrove.

Kingsale has options

The Orioles entered last season convinced that outfield prospect Eugene Kingsale was out of options. However, a joint investigation by the front office and Major League Baseball officials discovered that injuries and the Aruban's unusual career path give him another option for this year.

After signing as a 16-year-old with the Orioles in June 1993, Kingsale is entering his seventh professional season, including three at short-season stops Sarasota and Bluefield.

The spindly speedster also suffered an abbreviated 1997 season because of injuries, including two breaks of his wrist. Combined with his extensive short-season time, Kingsale is credited with less than five years of minor-league service, the typical threshold when a player's options are exhausted.

"It is an extremely rare set of circumstances," said assistant general manager Bruce Manno, who confirmed that until immediately before December's winter meetings, Major League Baseball had considered Kingsale out of options, meaning he would have had to stick with the major-league club this spring or be exposed to irrevocable waivers if the club wished to send him to Triple-A Rochester.

Options are considered the game's hieroglyphics. There are different intricate sets for players based on service time, and teams now hire front-office officials whose main responsibility is to properly interpret the rules.

"It wasn't something that just we discovered," said Manno. "Major League Baseball was aware of his circumstances and we both looked into it."

With Kingsale out of danger, right-handed pitcher Calvin Maduro is the Orioles' only prospect out of options.

Around the horn

As anticipated, Hargrove confirmed second baseman Delino DeShields will also receive some time in center field this spring. Hargrove left open the possibility of employing right-handed position players at designated hitter against left-handed pitching. Asked if that philosophy might include Albert Belle, the manager said, "Sure." Belle played 161 games last season, six as designated hitter. Jeff Conine and Cal Ripken also fit the description to occasionally fill the role. The Orioles will play three intrasquad games Tuesday-Thursday prior to next Friday's Grapefruit League opener. Committed to giving innings to veteran pitchers, the intrasquads may represent the best chance for prospects and some non-roster invitees to make an impression.

Pub Date: 2/27/00

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