Surgery on deck for Erickson?

Pitcher sent to L.A. for 2nd elbow exam

surgery possible today

Orioles' timetable: ASAP

Bone chip removal could cost him 6 weeks

March 01, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson headed for Los Angeles yesterday to undergo yet another examination of his pitching arm, and the likelihood is growing that he will undergo surgery to remove bone chips or spurring in his elbow.

Erickson will undergo a second magnetic resonance imaging test to determine the cause of the persistent elbow soreness that has kept him off the mound since his third throwing session of spring training. The results will be evaluated by highly regarded orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum, who could perform surgery as early as today if the irritation is caused by a bone chip, a calcium deposit or a damaged ligament.

Club officials tried to play down that possibility -- insisting that an MRI performed in Florida was inconclusive -- but Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift confirmed that the club was aware of the possibility of surgery and wanted it performed as soon as possible if an operation is necessary.

"With the way technology is now," Thrift said, "you could be talking about [a recovery time] of just two or three weeks."

Manager Mike Hargrove agreed. In a best-case surgical scenario -- a simple arthroscopic procedure to remove loose bone chips -- Erickson conceivably could be back in the starting rotation in six weeks.

"Obviously, you don't want to lose time with the guy that's your No. 2 pitcher," Hargrove said, "but if the worst thing happens and he has surgery and it ends up costing him four to six weeks, he'll miss three or four starts. That still leaves 30 or 31 starts, which isn't all that bad.

"If it had to happen, you'd still have time to recover from that and still have a very productive season, but hopefully we're not looking at that scenario. Hopefully, Dr. Yocum will say in five or six days, he can start throwing again."

The club doesn't even want to think about more invasive surgical possibilities. The recovery time would be longer if Yocum has to remove a bone spur and the surgery could be far more extensive if Erickson has a ligament tear.

Erickson's condition has been a matter of speculation since he first experienced soreness in his elbow on Feb. 22. He was scheduled to test his arm on Monday, but the workout was scrapped -- ostensibly because he suffered an ankle sprain while jogging on Sunday.

Thrift said yesterday that the ankle sprain actually created the option of sending Erickson to see Yocum, since the veteran right-hander would not have been able to resume throwing anyway.

The way Thrift first explained it, Erickson moved too much during his MRI on Monday and the resultant image was too blurred for doctors to draw any conclusions. Rather than repeat the test in Florida, club officials decided to send him from coast to coast to see Yocum, who had examined the same elbow during the off-season.

"Dr. Yocum is the one who has a complete history of Scott and is the doctor that has the most recent [readable] MRI on Scott," Thrift said. "It just made sense that he have the examination there."

Thrift insisted that there was no more to it than that, but it appeared curious that the team would choose to send Erickson 2,500 miles rather than make at least one more attempt to get a clear picture of the injury in Florida. The MRI takes only about 45 minutes.

The club's explanation left plenty of room to speculate that there was enough troubling evidence on the first MRI to convince Erickson that he wanted the next opinion to come from his own doctor.

"I hate to get into speculation," Hargrove said. "Nobody's trying to hide anything. What they want to do is see if there is a chip or something in there that's causing the problem, and if there is, it will be taken care of. If not, then you go to Plan B, which is whatever Dr. Yocum thinks."

If Erickson is lost for a significant period, Thrift will have to decide whether to make another effort to acquire a veteran starting pitcher or try to get by with one of the young pitchers already in the organization.

Triple-A prospect Calvin Maduro has moved into Erickson's place in the exhibition rotation, but there is no one in the minor-league system with the realistic potential to replace the innings or production of one of the most dependable starters in the American League.

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