Elbow puts Erickson back on DL

Ligament damage feared as struggling pitcher discloses pain

`He didn't tell any of us'

Exam to tell if Oriole will need 2nd surgery

July 28, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles will today place starting pitcher Scott Erickson on the 15-day disabled list for the second time this season because of elbow discomfort that not only has robbed the durable right-hander of his effectiveness, but also stirred concern over possible ligament damage.

Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift confirmed the move last night and said the club would know more about the extent of Erickson's injury pending this afternoon's exam by a team orthopedic doctor. Having attempted to trade Erickson for much of the last two months, Thrift said he didn't know whether the pain in the pitcher's right elbow represents a season-ending condition or if it might necessitate the pitcher undergoing surgery for the second time this year.

"I didn't hear anything about it until [Wednesday] night," Thrift said. "He didn't tell any of us about it because he wouldn't have been pitching if he had."

Today's roster move, however, confirms clubhouse suspicions Erickson has been physically handicapped during a trying season. He lasted only four innings while surrendering eight runs in a 19-1 loss to the New York Yankees Tuesday. The sinkerball pitcher's nine-hit strafing dropped his record to 5-8 and jacked his earned run average to 7.87. Just as alarming was Erickson's lack of velocity. Consistently able to reach 94 mph with his sinker last season, he struggled to hit 91 on Tuesday while averaging 88-89 mph. The trademark late action on his pitches also was missing.

Erickson sought out manager Mike Hargrove after Wednesday's game to request a return to the disabled list. Hargrove appeared to console the pitcher as they left his office but neither confirmed a pending move.

"You'll know more on Friday," Erickson said.

The Orioles will replace Erickson with Rochester closer Ryan Kohlmeier, who is 1-4 with 10 saves and a 2.56 ERA in 36 Triple-A appearances this season. Because Kohlmeier is not currently on the Orioles' 40-man roster, a corresponding subtraction must be made to create space. Though Thrift is involved in trade discussions with numerous teams, the roster subtraction will likely come by designating a current member for assignment.

The severity of Erickson's condition appears to center on the ligaments surrounding his elbow. Veteran pitchers often experience stretching of such ligaments, but once bowed, they lose elasticity. Club officials were aware of some stretching earlier this season, according to a club source.

Asked if he was aware of anything that would necessitate surgery, Thrift said, "Not to my knowledge."

"He's a pretty tough guy," added Thrift. "He has a tremendous threshold for pain. He displayed that by continuously going out there."

The Orioles have invested heavily in Erickson, 32, signing him to a five-year, $32 million contract extension in May 1998. In the last four seasons he had averaged 15 wins and 231 innings, leading the American League in 1998.

Erickson underwent arthroscopic surgery in Los Angeles March 3 for the removal of bone fragments from the elbow. He immersed himself in an aggressive rehabilitation that allowed him to return to the Orioles' rotation May 5. The typically aggressive Erickson never rediscovered last year's velocity and was forced to pitch out of character due to his lacking movement. He began to nibble at sides of the plate, resulting in high pitch counts, inflated walks and maddening inconsistency.

Catcher Charles Johnson observed after Tuesday's start, "Scotty's not that far off, but he's just not able to locate like he used to. He can go awhile and look fine, then something seems to happen."

Pitching coach Sammy Ellis, among others, withheld his assessment after Erickson's latest start when asked if the right-hander was struggling with his mechanics."I'm not sure about that," he said. "I can't answer that and I won't answer that."

Thrift said he was impressed by Erickson's July 4 start in New York but had since noticed his diminished effectiveness. "I had seen a lot of his games on television. The game in New York I thought he pitched very respectably. I hadn't seen that since," said Thrift.

Thrift said he had not approached Erickson about his soundness. "The first I heard of it was when Mike [Hargrove] called me to say Scott wanted to be on the disabled list."

Teams interested in obtaining Erickson for the stretch drive became concerned weeks ago. Interest virtually evaporated earlier this month when the pitcher gained enough service time to veto any trade. More than Erickson's leverage, his health became a source for speculation as he began to skip bullpen sessions between starts, especially uncommon for a pitcher who once threw twice from the mound between appearances.

Thrift insisted as recently as last month he would not trade Erickson unless he gained a major-league pitcher in return. The Mets and Braves expressed interest but balked at the asking price.

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