Healthy Clark up to his elbow in relief


Surgically repaired elbow no longer a hindrance to veteran first baseman

March 12, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Will Clark points to his grotesquely protruding left elbow, the one he racked up in 1986 with the San Francisco Giants, and flexes and straightens it.

Most impressively, Clark doesn't wince at the move.

For the first time since his rookie season, the Orioles' first baseman insists his surgically repaired elbow doesn't stab him with pain. Throwing is again a normal activity that doesn't cause him to contemplate double-clutching every time he must make a quick throw toward second base.

He can fully extend the arm when hitting. He can lift weights for the first time since attending Mississippi State without experiencing an intense throbbing.

"Basically, I'm at full speed," he said.

Clark never admitted to the searing pain until he underwent season-ending surgery last Aug. 26 to have bone chips removed from the elbow. It was the third time the elbow had been cleaned since Clark was involved in a collision on the bases in 1986. While with the Texas Rangers, Clark cracked the orbit head of the same elbow in 1995 when he smacked into a railing on Opening Day.

"It had felt pretty much the same for 15 years -- bad," said Clark, who left yesterday's 9-7 exhibition loss to the Detroit Tigers after three innings. "There's a reason this thing looks like it does."

The elbow is slightly discolored and seemingly displaced. Years of discomfort still cause Clark to walk with his arm noticeably bent. At least the painful sensation has passed.

"That's what ticks me off about guys who come in here and say they can't play for this or that reason. Hey, I played with this for 15 years. If I can play, you play," said Clark, recognized as the clubhouse sheriff.

Clark has yet to find his stroke this spring. He contributed a ground single yesterday but is still waiting for the surge that has made him a .career 312 hitter in April, including .370 in the first month of last season.

"I'll really try to get locked in by the last week of camp," he said. "Nothing really matters before then. Then it's a matter of maintaining."

What might've been

Phil Garner stepped outside the home clubhouse at Joker Marchant yesterday afternoon and saw the uniform he might have worn had the Tigers not moved quickly to name him as successor to Larry Parrish after last season.

The Tigers moved so quickly that they violated commissioner Bud Selig's mandate that minority candidates be involved in the process. The Orioles contacted Garner following his firing by the Milwaukee Brewers but never interviewed him.

Garner had little to say about what might have been with the Orioles but expressed optimism about his new job with a long-downtrodden franchise.

Used to tutoring prospects with the small-market Brewers, Garner quickly noticed a difference with the more veteran Tigers.

"I came out the first day expecting to spend a lot of time with fundamentals. But after 15 minutes these guys had everything down. I thought, `So this is a veteran team?' " said Garner, who consistently oversaw one of the game's youngest clubhouses in Milwaukee.

Like the rest of his new organization, Garner is especially excited about next month's opening of Comerica Park, which replaces decrepit Tiger Stadium.

"Look at what Camden Yards did for Baltimore. Look at Cleveland [and Jacobs Field]," said Garner, who will live in downtown Detroit. "I think within five years you'll see the same happen for Detroit."

Ponson keeps calm

Sidney Ponson's third exhibition appearance lasted three innings, one more than planned, but also included more trouble than the season-opening No. 2 starter would have liked.

Ponson surrendered four runs and seven hits, including a 430-foot home run to Tigers designated hitter Juan Gonzalez. Ponson also had to contend with a pair of first-inning errors by catcher Charles Johnson, who short-hopped a throw to the mound and dropped a perfect throw from right fielder Wady Almonte that would have caught Luis Polonia.

The Tigers added a second-inning run on three consecutive hits. Gonzalez capped the damage in the third inning with the first of his two home runs.

Yesterday marked Ponson's last start on three days' rest this spring. Beginning Thursday he will pitch at least four innings.

"I'm still getting ready. At the beginning you're trying to get your innings in, get your arm-strength back, then go from there," said Ponson. "The last two weeks of spring training really tell you whether you're ready to go."

Ponson left last spring complaining that he was ill-prepared to enter the season, a feeling substantiated by three awkward starts to begin the season. Comfortable with new pitching coach Sammy Ellis, Ponson says he doesn't anticipate a similar problem this year.

"I'm happy. I'm really happy," said Ponson. "I don't have coaches here telling me what to do all the time. I've got coaches telling me, `Do what you can do.' If you have to do something, they tell you. I go out there. I throw the ball. I have fun. If I do something [wrong], he'll tell me."

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