Groom might have to turn his back on today's assignment

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Pitcher's back spasms may leave him unavailable for game against Cardinals

Baseball

March 23, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Though he is scheduled to pitch today against the St. Louis Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., Orioles left-hander Buddy Groom might not be available because of back spasms that kept him in the trainer's room for most of yesterday's pre-game workout.

Groom had to leave the field after experiencing pain in his lower back while running sprints. He wore an elastic brace for support after receiving treatment and moved slowly through the clubhouse, taking short strides and being careful not to bend at the waist.

"I took a step and went, `uh-oh.' I knew what it was because it's happened before," he said.

Groom, 35, usually encounters this problem once a year, though he avoided it last season. He dealt with the same type of pain in 1999 while pitching in Oakland.

"I don't foresee this as being a big deal. It never has been in the past," he said. "It's usually fine in four or five days."

Groom said the source of the spasms is a curvature in his lower back, which makes it imperative that he stretch before games. As yesterday again proved, such preventive measures don't always work.

This isn't the only discomfort that Groom has been subjected to in recent days. He also wore an ice pack on his neck after Wednesday's game to alleviate stiffness that occurred while pitching in Vero Beach on Tuesday afternoon.

It might have happened from watching so many balls zip past him. Groom entered a tie game in the eighth inning and allowed five runs on six hits against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

If not for the back spasms, Groom said he could pitch today. "It would probably help me keep my head down," he said.

Ripken update

Cal Ripken will accompany the Orioles to Jupiter, Fla. for today's game against the Cardinals, but he isn't expected to play before tomorrow, when he could start at third base against the Dodgers.

Ripken took another round of batting practice on the field before yesterday's 4-2 victory over the Cardinals. He also continues to participate in full infield drills while drawing closer to his first start since reporting to camp with a fractured rib.

"We'll just wait and see. We're at the point now where we want to be sure he's really ready, and I think we're close," manager Mike Hargrove said.

"He looks good. He's throwing, he's moving, he's running, he's taking a lot of swings, both in the cage and here on the field in live BP. There's no reason for me to think he's not getting close."

Asked if Ripken would serve as the designated hitter if included in tomorrow's lineup, Hargrove said, "Not necessarily."

Jeff Conine started at third yesterday and hit his first spring home run. Mike Kinkade was in left field, but he also has filled in for Ripken.

"He's gotten a lot more at-bats than he probably would have. So has Jay Gibbons," Hargrove said. "We've been able to look at some of our young kids more extensively, which is good for them. And if we can accomplish that and get Cal at-bats and be ready for the season, then we've really had the best of both worlds."

Split squad falls to Twins

The Orioles went 1-1 yesterday, with their split squad losing to the Minnesota Twins, 6-5, in Fort Myers. They wasted five shutout innings from Willis Roberts.

Mike Trombley and John Bale each added a scoreless inning before a collection of minor-leaguers allowed four runs in the eighth and two in the ninth. Shaun Babula, a 16th-round pick in the 1999 draft, took the loss.

Gibbons, returning from a strained right hamstring, went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs. Brook Fordyce (2-for-4) and Delino DeShields (2-for-3, two RBIs) each had a triple. Eugene Kingsale went 3-for-4 with an RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 69 - Pitches thrown by Orioles starter Chuck McElroy in five innings against the Cardinals - one short of his limit.

INJURY UPDATE: First baseman David Segui tested his right hamstring by running yesterday and told Hargrove he didn't feel any pain, "but we're still probably a ways away," Hargrove added. "The trainers said to treat it like he's on the [disabled list] and it would be anywhere from 10 to 15 days, so we're still on track." ... Coming off his first spring appearance on Wednesday, reliever Alan Mills will pitch every other day if his shoulder can withstand the grind, as the Orioles determine if he'll be ready for Opening Day.

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