O's hit again by arm injury

Club reveals Gorman, right-handed prospect, had elbow surgery

March 01, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - For the second time in less than 24 hours and the third time since camp opened Feb. 14, the Orioles yesterday confirmed an arm injury to one of the seven pitchers they acquired during last July's trade frenzy.

Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift acknowledged right-handed prospect Pat Gorman underwent ligament replacement in his right elbow - "Tommy John" surgery - shortly after last season and will not perform this year.

Gorman, 23, has never played above Single-A in four professional seasons and was not considered central to the five-player deal that sent shortstop Mike Bordick to the New York Mets last July 28; but his unavailability helped resurrect concerns that have caused the club to implement new safeguards regarding all imported pitching prospects.

Confirmation of Gorman's status followed Tuesday's disclosure that Mark Nuss- beck will not throw from a mound for at least two more weeks because of recurring shoulder tendinitis.

The Orioles also expect prized right-handed pitching prospect Luis Rivera to miss the season after a magnetic resonance imaging last week disclosed a tear of his right labrum.

Circumstances make the injuries more visible because July's trades were primarily designed to stock a recovering farm system with power pitchers. Thrift, angered by at least one pitcher's apparently lax off-season conditioning, remained upbeat about the long-term prognosis. The other pitchers acquired last July - Leslie Brea, Juan Figueroa, Miguel Felix and Jason Lakman - are in camp.

"You're always hoping things are going to be great, but realistically you know that's not practical nor probable," Thrift said. "Whenever you've been in the pitching business as long as I have, you really don't get concerned by anybody having a temporary setback. It's what it's going to be two years from now ... four years from now" that is most important.

The Orioles hope to avoid a repeat of this spring's surprises by making it mandatory for all pitchers acquired during a season to undergo two weeks of medical observation and conditioning during instructional league.

"When we get players from other organizations, they're not used to our training program. Some of them have had no training program" with their previous organization, Thrift said. "So therefore, it's important when those players come here - I don't care who they are - that they go down there for two weeks."

Projected to challenge for a middle-relief role in camp, Nuss- beck was shut down last summer after making only four August starts at Rochester. The Orioles acquired the 26-year-old right-hander and first baseman Chris Richard from the St. Louis Cardinals in return for closer Mike Timlin and cash. Thrift said yesterday that Nussbeck came to the Orioles with a clean medical history.

Rivera, 22, represented the cornerstone of the July 31 waiver-deadline deal that sent All-Star left fielder B. J. Surhoff and pitcher Gabe Molina to the Atlanta Braves. Catcher Fernando Lunar and since-released outfielder Trenidad Hubbard accompanied Rivera to Baltimore.

Rivera is scheduled to receive a second opinion from orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday. Barring a new diagnosis, Rivera will undergo surgery performed by Andrews.

Described as a "throw-in" to the Bordick trade, Gorman made nine relief appearances between Frederick and Delmarva. The deal also brought the Orioles utility player Melvin Mora, projected as this season's starting center fielder; catcher-infielder Mike Kinkade; and Brea, a right-handed pitcher whose age became a source of controversy immediately after the deal. (Mets general manager Steve Phillips admitted Rivera was at least 26, while the Orioles still list his age as 21.)

Thrift remains confident none of the injuries is career-threatening but is upset that Nussbeck apparently abstained from an off-season conditioning program the team prescribed for him.

"You think that doesn't burn me up?" Thrift said. "It irritates me that the players or pitchers don't listen. We only have one of those [Nussbeck]. Rivera did what we asked him to do. He went beyond that but we had no control over it."

The Orioles had expected Rivera to compete for a spot in their starting rotation after watching him pitch effectively in the Mexican Winter League. Thrift said he received scouting reports in early December putting Rivera's fastball in the mid-90s. Yet the pitcher who arrived at camp more closely resembled the one who had suffered shoulder tendinitis with the Braves before last summer's trade.

Thrift theorizes that an overaggressive winter workout routine caused the stiffness and apparent labrum tear that followed Rivera to camp.

"I was not surprised; I was stunned," Thrift said of the spate of injuries. "I was shocked by some of them. After all, I was the one who had the scouts go see Rivera. I was the one who had reports in hand of 94 and 96 [-mph fastballs]. He said himself he was as shocked as anybody.

"But those things happen in baseball. They've always happened."

Thrift did not review Rivera's medical records before the trade but reiterated he had "no reservations" about Rivera's soundness when he arrived from Atlanta. He offered similar assurances about Nussbeck and Gorman.

Thrift dismissed a suggestion that his trades have been victimized by a run of bad luck.

"If all three of them had died, that would have been a tough run of luck," he said. "Here's a guy [Nussbeck] who'll probably pitch in a month or three weeks."

Gorman's injury was diagnosed during last October's instructional league in Lakeland, Fla. It is much the same as those that sidelined Orioles starting pitcher Scott Erickson and top left-handed prospect Matt Riley last summer. Erickson and Riley also underwent ligament replacement.

"You've got a whole group of people with problems," Thrift said. `That's the way baseball has always been. We don't have the franchise on that."

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