Riley won't throw in towel on season

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Healing lefty anticipates formal rehab by mid-July

March 13, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Orioles left-hander Matt Riley, unable to pitch since September after having ligament-transplant surgery, is in the advanced stages of his throwing program and expects to go on an injury rehab assignment in the minors by the middle of July.

While club officials still won't commit to Riley pitching this season, he has made significant progress this spring under the guidance of the Orioles' training staff. He has been throwing on alternating days from 120 feet - two sets of 25 - since late last week. Riley's schedule calls for him to continue this until moving within mound distance and climbing one for the first time around May 10."[Sunday] was my best day," said Riley, 21. "Out of 50 throws, probably 40 hit in the chest, which I think is pretty good. You don't see many people make 50 throws from 120 feet. That's a lot."

Riley already is projecting where he'll pitch for the first time this season, naming Single-A Delmarva as one possibility. He dominated the South Atlantic League in 1998, his first full professional season, when he went 5-4 with a 1.19 ERA, 44 walks and 136 strikeouts in 83 innings. He could start further back, at rookie-level Bluefield.

He came into camp last spring with an outside chance at cracking the rotation after receiving a September promotion by the Orioles. Now, after spending the entire year in the minors and twice going on the disabled list, he'll settle for being healthy and on the field. Any field.

"Hopefully I'll end up at Double-A or Triple-A," he said. "I don't think I'll be called up to the big leagues because they don't want to rush me back."

Riley will continue his rehab program at the minor-league camp in Sarasota. The Orioles sent him there after last night's game.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, said it hasn't been decided if Riley will pitch this summer. "We'll wait and see," he said. "I think is the most important goal is to stay healthy and not have any setbacks."

Riley drew criticism last spring for being in poor shape, which no longer is an issue.

"Right now, this is the probably the strongest I've ever been since '98 when I was pitching in Delmarva," he said. "I'm actually conditioned now. I'm running all the time, and my arm feels great."

Still waiting for his first meaningful innings since Sept. 2, when he collapsed on the mound at Double-A Harrisburg after throwing a pitch, Riley already is making plans for the fall and winter. He wants to remain in the Orioles' plans for 2002.

Patient grooming

Buddy Groom made his second appearance of the spring last night against the Florida Marlins. Like Mike Trombley, most of his innings have come outside the Grapefruit League. He has pitched in intrasquad games and thrown batting practice, and joined Pat Hentgen and Trombley in Port Charlotte on Friday while the Orioles were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"They don't need us to get in games right now. We're going to get in enough games once they start sending guys down," Groom said. "We're getting our work in now. All we're concerned about now is just getting our arms in shape."

Groom won't have much idle time once the season begins. He joins Colorado's Mike Myers as the only pitchers to appear in 70 or more games for five straight years - setting up a race this summer that, though not quite the caliber of Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa, could prove interesting.

They were traded for each other in 1995 before beginning their streaks.

"It doesn't really occur to me to see how he's doing," Groom said. "The only thing I really look at in the box scores is maybe guys I've played with in the past. Other than that, I don't know what he's doing."

Player cuts

The Orioles made their first cuts after last night's game, removing 10 players from camp, including Riley.

Pitchers Mark Nussbeck, Sean Douglass and Juan Figueroa were optioned to Triple-A Rochester, and pitcher Juan Guzman was optioned to Double-A Bowie. Five non-roster invitees were reassigned: pitchers Miguel Felix and Rick Huisman, catcher Adan Amezcua and outfielders Wady Almonte and Carlos Casimiro.

The Orioles have 44 players in camp, including two pitchers who will open the season on the disabled list: Scott Erickson and Luis Rivera.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 3 - Runs allowed by Jason Johnson in the second inning, his first ones this spring.

INJURY UPDATE: Outfielder Luis Matos will have surgery today in Birmingham, Ala., to tighten his left shoulder capsule. There's a chance he could miss the entire season.

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