Erickson makes a major statement

After 7 strong innings in Bowie, he may pitch Friday vs. Yankees

May 01, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOWIE -- As if to erase any excuse for further delay, Scott Erickson gave the Orioles a convincing seven-inning statement yesterday that he is sufficiently recovered from March 3 arthroscopic surgery to rejoin the major-league rotation.

Five days after pitching 6 1/3 more eventful innings at Single-A Frederick, Erickson used 103 pitches to pitch seven shutout innings that included six strikeouts, no walks and four hits in what ended as a 3-2 win for the Bowie Baysox over the Akron Aeros at Prince George's County Stadium.

Erickson said he felt "a little bit sharper" than in his first rehab assignment. Barring a complication during today's workout at Camden Yards, he will be activated in time to start Friday's opener of a three-game series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The only delay would result from an improbable decision by manager Mike Hargrove to pitch Mike Mussina on five games' rather than five days' rest after Saturday's demanding 138-pitch complete game against the Texas Rangers.

Mussina admitted being exhausted Saturday afternoon and still experienced more than a little stiffness yesterday morning. He is scheduled to start Thursday afternoon at Camden Yards against the Anaheim Angels.

The Orioles' day off today allows Hargrove wiggle room.

"I'm pretty much taking it one day at a time," said Erickson. "Hopefully, I'll have the same type of outcome that I had here."

Except for a four-day growth and the Baysox No. 19 he wore, Erickson resembled the same pitcher who dominated last season's second half.

Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift chose to watch the Orioles' 8-4 loss to the Rangers yesterday, but he felt Erickson's appearance was significant enough to have three of his top lieutenants attend. Director of minor-league instruction Tom Trebelhorn and minor-league pitching coordinator Bo McLaughlin watched every pitch, as did former Orioles pitching coach Bruce Kison, now a special assignment scout based in Bradenton, Fla. Because of his familiarity with Erickson's mechanics, Kison was asked to fly in to Baltimore late Saturday night. Sitting beside McLaughlin yesterday, he took notes, which he forwarded before returning to Florida last night.

Erickson lobbied during a Friday meeting with Hargrove and Thrift to make yesterday's start against Texas. However, a combination of factors, including concern over a toasted bullpen and Erickson appearing on a pitch count vetoed his vote.

"I told them I wanted to pitch in Baltimore today, but they wanted to be safe. I respect that. I have no problem coming down here and getting ready for Friday night," Erickson said.

Whatever lingering concerns existed after the Frederick appearance have apparently evaporated. Erickson's velocity, 87-88 mph during his first rehab start, averaged 89-90 yesterday. Most impressive, he maintained both velocity and movement throughout the start.

Erickson's fastball typically tops out at 94 mph. Less than two months after having bone chips removed from his right elbow, he admits that figure is overly ambitious.

"After about four or five starts my arm strength will get me back up to 94," he projected.

The snap on Erickson's off-speed pitches was especially impressive. After appearing to muscle the ball in the first two innings, he relaxed from the third inning on. Throughout his rehabilitation, Erickson has shown no fear at any stage, including generating torque for his breaking assortment.

"No matter what level you're at, you've got to mix it up and keep guys off balance," he said. "Everybody can hit a fastball; it doesn't matter what level you're at. It wouldn't do me any good to come down here and throw all fastballs. The whole point is coming down and working on everything."

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