Spasm behind shoulder forces Clark to bench

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Hargrove likely to keep him out

Timlin return near

April 14, 2000|By Peter Schmuck and Joe Strauss | Peter Schmuck and Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First baseman Will Clark was all wired up after yesterday's game, hooked to an electronic muscle stimulator after a spasm behind his right shoulder blade knocked him out of action early in the Orioles' 6-5 loss to the Kansas City Royals.

"It started during batting practice," Clark explained. "I had Richie [head trainer Richie Bancells] try to rub it out, but it just kept coming on."

Clark tried to play, but left the game after striking out in his first at-bat. He seemed very uncomfortable as he dressed for the club's charter flight to Minnesota, but would not rule himself out of the starting lineup for tonight's series opener against the Twins.

The prognosis?

"I have no idea," he said. "We'll just have to see what happens tomorrow, I guess. It's just one of those things."

Chances are, Clark won't start against the Twins tonight, even if he makes a quick recovery. The Orioles face former University of Maryland left-hander Eric Milton, so backup Jeff Conine figured to play regardless.

Don't be surprised if manager Mike Hargrove holds Clark out for several days, just to make sure that the upper back strain does not become a lingering problem. Clark missed much of last year because of injuries, but had gotten off to a strong start at the plate.

He has struck out in his last four official at-bats, but still ranks among the club leaders with a .360 batting average and leads the club's regulars with a .500 on-base percentage.

Timlin on road back

Hargrove says closer Mike Timlin will be able to leave the disabled list on schedule Monday, providing a needed tonic for a bullpen that has labored noticeably in his absence the last three days.

Timlin played catch for the second consecutive day yesterday and will test his sore abdominal muscle during a side session this weekend in Minneapolis.

Timlin has not appeared this season. He believes he suffered the injury on March 20 but pitched effectively several times before an April 1 outing against the Cincinnati Reds in Chattanooga, Tenn., convinced him that the condition wouldn't improve sufficiently without rest.

The club placed Timlin on the disabled list April 7 retroactive to April 2. Mike Trombley has handled the closer role in his absence, saving one of two chances.

"Never count your chickens," said Timlin, who remains cautiously optimistic about his return.

Timlin said his throwing sessions have been pain-free but he has yet to seriously test the muscles that prevented him from extending fully during the latter stages of camp. "I didn't throw as mentally loose in Chattanooga. I wasn't as sharp because I had taken some days off. I looked at it at the time as `If I blow it out, I blow it out.' "

Hargrove said yesterday he believes the outcome of Tuesday and yesterday's losses would have been different had Timlin been available. His absence has caused roles to be shuffled and results were unsightly during this week's three-game Royals sweep.

"I can't say it would be different because I wasn't out there experiencing it. It could have happened just as easily to me as it happened to them," Timlin said.

Since going on the disabled list, Timlin has done a handful of stomach exercises while receiving heat, ultrasound and ice.

"I'm just giving it as much rest as it needs," Timlin said. "The strange part is I worked out pretty hard this winter. I had the same sprint coach as last year. I gained a little bit of muscle. I was strong and healthy. Then this."

Getting defensive

Hargrove remains impressed with his team's overall performance but has been somewhat dissatisfied with a lack of defensive consistency.

The issue arose again in the aftermath of Wednesday's crushing 7-6 loss when a flare that fell in front of right fielder Albert Belle and a line drive that cleared the head of center fielder Brady Anderson became pivotal moments. Of Gregg Zaun's seventh-inning flare that fell in front of Belle and beyond retreating second baseman Delino DeShields, Hargrove said, "That ball has to be caught. It wasn't lack of communication. It was indecision. The call [by Belle] was made."

Anderson failed to run down a shot by left fielder Mark Quinn despite playing at "no double" depth. "Brady's a good outfielder, a good athlete," said Hargrove. "A good athlete makes that play, and Brady's a good athlete."

The Orioles, who have committed eight errors in nine games, were also hurt in Tuesday's 12-inning loss by uncharacteristic indecision by third baseman Cal Ripken, who looked home then threw wildly to first on a sixth-inning grounder that led to an unearned run.

Hargrove describes the defense so far as "middle of the pack as a team. The one good thing about this club, even with a perceived lack of range, is they know how to position themselves well."

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