FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On a sequestered part of a back field, the Orioles yesterday received their first good news of the 2002 season when Scott Erickson began a 20-week throwing program as part of his rehabilitation from August's elbow ligament replacement surgery.
About 20 soft tosses confirmed positive reports about Erickson's repaired right elbow. Though not expected to be a significant part of the upcoming season, Erickson factors heavily in the Orioles' anticipated ascendance in 2002.
"I could have started [throwing] after four months, but I waited six just to be sure," Erickson said after a workout that also included participation in some fielding drills.
Erickson will toss every other day during camp. Should his progress remain uninterrupted, he may return to the mound in late June, but hastened he has set no deadlines.
"The one thing that I've been telling myself is I won't pitch this year. If I do pitch, it's gravy," Erickson said.
Erickson underwent the ligament replacement -- aka Tommy John surgery -- on Aug. 8 after the club's fruitless attempts to trade him.
It was during last spring training that Erickson experienced significant discomfort because of bone chips in the elbow that were removed during arthroscopic surgery March 3.
Erickson had pitched with a stretched ligament in the elbow since the previous July, but finally consented to the ligament replacement procedure after going 5-8 with a 7.87 ERA last season.
Erickson is a renowned workaholic who admittedly pushed himself too quickly last spring before his troubled return to the rotation in May. It's a mistake he says won't be repeated.
"I don't see what purpose there is to hurry to get back in 12 months if I get back out there, get rocked for three starts and end up back on the disabled list. Then it's all for nothing," he said.
It initially was believed Erickson would shuttle between camp and Arizona this spring, but the innings monster indicated yesterday he plans to remain with the club through the spring.
The rehab program will extend through June, according to Erickson. Doctors and team trainers will then evaluate his progress and suggest how he best use the season's final three months.
The common standard for a pitcher's return from such surgery -- 18 months -- would have Erickson ready to fully participate by next February.
"Things couldn't have gone better so far," he said. "I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that."
The undeterred manager
Mike Hargrove says his feelings haven't changed since the end of last season, his first as Orioles manager. He remains enthusiastic about what the club has done since its flurry of trades in late July. And he's still committed to the young guys who are scattered throughout the spring training camp.
Let the various baseball publications predict a hailstorm of losses in 2001, perhaps enough to push the Orioles into last place in the American League's East Division. Hargrove continues to see rays of sunshine, making it easier to view the rebuilding job before him.
"In certain regards this is a big job and a challenge, but it's exciting. It's something I look forward to," he said.
"Very few opportunities come along in this game at this level to be able to mold players into what you believe a player should be, and how the game should be respected and played. We've got that opportunity with some of the guys here."
The similarities to his early years as manager with the Cleveland Indians remain evident to Hargrove, who eventually guided the Indians to five consecutive division titles before being fired.
"Every situation has its own reward. This is a proud franchise with a proud history and a proud tradition. We're in the business right now of restoring that pride, restoring that tradition, and adding to the history. I think that's exciting," he said.
"There are not many organizations that have that sort of history, and I've been fortunate enough to be with two that do. Hopefully, we can get this thing back to where it should be."
Hargrove said he hasn't read the scathing Sports Illustrated article, written by Tom Verducci, that blistered majority owner Peter Angelos and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift. He's had a few opportunities, but resisted them all.
"Right now, the Orioles are an easy target. We understand that," he said. "We want to make it a little more difficult. There are a lot of good things happening to this franchise."
Maduro among signees
The Orioles have signed pitcher Calvin Maduro to a minor-league contract and invited him to camp. He's expected to arrive today.
Maduro went on the disabled list twice last season because of a sprained ligament in his right elbow and didn't pitch after June 22. He appeared in 15 games, including two starts in April after Scott Erickson's elbow injury opened a spot in the rotation. Maduro wasn't offered a contract after the season, and he remained a free agent until the Orioles regained a visa spot for him.