O's seek remedies to spring ailments

Anderson, Conine in search of relief

even Surhoff slowed

March 17, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Brady Anderson remained in Fort Lauderdale and out of uniform yesterday, just as the center fielder had done the previous five days after suffering a bizarre nerve injury in his left leg. Left fielder B. J. Surhoff also missed his fourth game in a five-game span due to tendinitis in his right elbow. Over the flu, Jeff Conine remains limited by an inflamed right rotator cuff.

Could it be the Jurassic Effect, or merely a passing inconvenience?

Either way, two weeks remain before the Orioles head north and the league's most veteran clubhouse remains hobbled by aches and pains that often bypass youth.

"Most people would tell you they'd like spring training to be shorter. This year I wish it would last longer," lamented Anderson, who doesn't expect to return to uniform until next week.

Manager Mike Hargrove remains confident his veteran team will be prepared when the season begins April 3, citing only the monthlong loss of starting pitcher Scott Erickson as reason for deep concern. However, the Orioles have not put their projected Opening Day lineup on the field together since the first week of exhibition games.

Hargrove said he is neither worried nor concerned yet, but did provide a definition for both: "There is a difference between concern and terror. Worry is abject terror. Concern is fear."

Anderson's injury is the most unusual. Examined by team orthopedic Michael Jacobs earlier this week, he suffers from a palsy of the left foot caused by his peroneal nerve's negative reaction to icing of his left knee. Yesterday he ruled out the possibility of returning before next week and says his left ankle is still easily rolled. "I think it's better, but it's not enough," he said.

Surhoff, 35, is nearly as well-known for his durability as his consistency. He enters the season with the game's longest active consecutive game streak (324) and has immersed himself in a rigorous off-season conditioning program the past two winters. Still, he has missed four of the last five games and served as designated hitter in the fifth. (And was beaned for his effort.)

Surhoff has so far received 20 at-bats and will likely miss his spring target of 60. The elbow condition is of significance to one of the game's best left fielders and most accurate arms.

Hargrove describes the rash of injuries as typical of camp and remains confident Anderson will return in time to prepare himself for April. A week ago, Anderson led the team with 21 at-bats; however, he now finds himself with fewer plate appearances than backups Greg Myers, Calvin Pickering, Rich Amaral and Eugene Kingsale.

"I've always liked a lot of at-bats in spring training," Anderson said. "I guess I'm going to have to make do with less this time."

Anderson, 36, isn't alone. Every position except catcher and right field has been affected by various ailments or injury.

Third baseman Cal Ripken, supposedly the team's biggest health question entering camp, has missed just one game because of neck stiffness; second baseman Jerry Hairston missed most of a week with a strained left groin and shortstop Mike Bordick was held out of three games with the flu. Conine, a backup first baseman and apprentice at third, hasn't played since taking a cortisone shot last Friday.

Conine's cortisone shot is thought to have contributed to a depressed immune system, leaving him vulnerable to a flu that left him bed-ridden and visibly thinner. He didn't regain an appetite until Wednesday and continues to receive treatment on his shoulder.

While Conine recovers, his experiment at third base remains on hold. He played one game at the position, receiving one chance that turned into a throwing error. The downtime also has limited Conine to 13 at-bats. Hargrove had hoped to find 55-60 at-bats for his regulars this spring.

Hargrove says the recent downtime won't affect Conine's exposure at third base. The manager anticipates Conine playing no more than one of every 10 games at the position. Ryan Minor would be used if a greater need arose. "What we're looking for is a little time there from Jeff," said Hargrove. "It's not like we have to plan for Brooks Robinson."

Hargrove can live with the past week's inconveniences.

"Except for Scott Erickson, I don't think there's anything that will affect us long-term," he said.

Erickson is expected to toss a ball today for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery March 3. The club has tentatively projected his return for May 1.

The Orioles still bear the scars of last season's 6-16 April, which ended with a pitching staff in tatters. Regaining a healthy roster is essential to erasing that memory.

Only Erickson's loss has created the need for contingencies, unlike a year ago when second baseman Delino DeShields began the season on the disabled list with a broken hand and Ripken had to be lifted from the season opener with back stiffness that grew into a chronic condition. Hargrove heavily implied yesterday that the roster is virtually set, a luxury not afforded managers afflicted with concern.

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