Anderson uncertain about Opening Day

Center fielder to play in controlled scrimmage despite leg nerve damage

March 22, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson said yesterday he is uncertain whether he will be able to play by Opening Day because of nerve damage in his left leg that has kept him out of the lineup for almost two weeks.

"I'm in a position where I don't know anything right now," Anderson said. "It's something I'm not prepared to answer."

Anderson, who took on-field batting practice yesterday for the first time since suffering the loss of sensation March 11, is scheduled to participate in a controlled game today at the Orioles' minor-league complex in Sarasota.

He won't play the outfield but will serve as leadoff hitter every inning and be permitted to run the bases. His weakened left ankle has been fitted with an air splint designed to keep the foot from rolling.

Manager Mike Hargrove said "contingencies have been discussed" but added that on a scale of 1-10, he considers the probability of Anderson starting the season in center field "a seven."

"He's still at a point where he can work it out," Hargrove said. "He's continued to lift weights. Obviously, he's not running as we'd like. But he's taken his swings. [Today] is not the end-all. It can just be a major plus; it won't be a major minus. It'll be a major plus if he comes through fine. It won't be a major minus if he doesn't."

If the 36-year-old leadoff hitter is not ready by Opening Day, Hargrove could choose from a number of options, including using Delino DeShields, prospect Eugene Kingsale or Rich Amaral. Nonroster invitee Wayne Kirby also remains in camp.

This is the third time in the past four years Anderson has confronted a significant spring injury. In 1997 he cracked the fifth rib on his left side while diving into a base. He was fitted with a flak jacket by Ravens equipment specialists but ultimately discarded the device while playing on.

Anderson was less effective in 1998 after suffering a fractured hand while sliding during the final week of camp. Anderson later suffered a muscle strain on the right side of his neck as well as to the sternoclavicular joint. He landed on the disabled list before May and struggled throughout the season before finishing with a .236 average, 51 RBIs and 84 runs.

Anderson prides himself on being able to deal with pain. He has played through appendicitis, cracked ribs and chronically sore knees. But the attribute does him little good in this case.

"It feels fine. That's the thing with this injury. It's possible that I can feel fine but still not be able to go 100 percent," he said. "Pain is usually what tells you something is wrong. With this, I don't feel anything until" the ankle rolls.

Anderson experienced a palsy in the left leg after icing his knee. He experienced numbness in the foot and once collapsed while trying to rise from a bench.

Sensation has gradually returned but the affected nerve has yet to completely regenerate, a process doctors tell Anderson could take as long as eight weeks.

"I don't know. Nobody knows," he said. "That's the frustrating part."

Hargrove said he saw a similar injury afflict catcher Pat Borders on the 1997 Cleveland Indians. However, that injury occurred during the postseason. Anderson's injury represents a more open-ended question. It's unlikely he will receive appreciable playing time before the season even if the condition continues to show gradual improvement. Anderson once led the club with 22 at-bats but is now resigned to finish camp with far fewer than his preferred 60-70 plate appearances.

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