DETROIT -- Orioles starting pitcher Scott Erickson will undergo ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow in Los Angeles today, shutting him down for the remainder of this season and making uncertain his availability for the 2001 campaign, the club confirmed last night.
Erickson, on the disabled list since July 28, left the team in Tampa Sunday afternoon. He was examined yesterday by Anaheim Angels orthopedist Dr. Lewis Yocum, who forwarded the test results to the Orioles last night, as well as Erickson's consent to major surgery.
"It disappoints me for Scott," manager Mike Hargrove said after last night's 4-3 win over the Detroit Tigers. "Scotty's got a long road ahead of him. He may come back quickly. I think we all had a sneaking suspicion this would be the outcome."
Ligament replacement surgery, known in baseball circles as "Tommy John" surgery after the former pitcher who first had it done, once required at least an 18-month rehabilitation.
However, Orioles head trainer Richie Bancells said Erickson could return within 8-12 months, which would make him available around next season's All-Star break in a best-case scenario.
"I think next year is in doubt," said Hargrove. "I think it's safe to say the start of the season is certainly in doubt."
The manager refrained from giving a more definitive timetable until after today's surgery.
The Orioles remain hopeful of Erickson's full recovery. Hargrove last night cited Cleveland Indians reliever Steve Karsay and Toronto Blue Jays closer Billy Koch as among those who have made a full recovery from the surgery.
There are instances when pitchers have actually gained velocity because the surgery replaces the ulna collateral ligament with a tendon, a stronger connector.
The tendon is grafted over the elbow, returning integrity to the elbow joint.
"There's a chance he could pitch toward the end of next season, but there is no way I could comment now on what efficiency level," said Bancells.
Erickson pitched through pain for much of last season, but somehow managed to construct a dominant second half in which he won 11 games. Hopeful of repeating, he attempted to pitch through pain after undergoing March arthroscopic surgery for removal of bone chips.
This time, he was left with a 5-8 record and 7.87 ERA while finding it impossible to throw in the bullpen before his last seven appearances.
Yocum discovered the pitcher's ulna collateral ligament had become severely stretched and gave Erickson the option of having replacement surgery immediately. Erickson refrained and returned to the rotation on May 5. He never regained full velocity.
"I think it was headed this way the whole time," conceded Hargrove. "We didn't extend him past any pitch limits. We didn't pitch him [on] short [rest]. We didn't send him out there against his wishes.
"I don't think there's any question at all there was nothing done physically to him to make this worse."
The Orioles, who entertained trade offers for Erickson as recently as early July, weren't surprised when Erickson approached Hargrove July 27 to ask out of the rotation.
"It is the thing that happens to the elbow, but [surgery] has a high success rate," said Bancells.
"It's all hypothetical, but it obviously would have been better to have done this sooner than later. But you don't know that until you give it a shot to see what's there. I think everything was done right," Hargrove said.
Opponent: Detroit Tigers
Site: Comerica Park, Detroit
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Pat Rapp (6-8, 6.27) vs. Tigers' Brian Moehler (7-7, 4.54)