Though his visit to an orthopedic specialist won't occur for three weeks, Orioles pitcher Pat Hentgen said yesterday that he anticipates having season-ending surgery on his right elbow that also would limit his availability in 2002.
Hentgen indicated that he's braced for the worst, which would be ligament-transplant surgery, though he won't know until seeing Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., on Aug. 21. Anointed the Orioles' No. 1 starter out of spring training, he hasn't pitched since May 16 because of a sprained ligament. He might not pitch again for the Orioles, with his contract expiring after next season.
It took only seven throws for Hentgen to succumb to pain that ended Sunday's side session at Anaheim, along with any plans of going on a minor-league assignment. He had been progressing nicely until leaving for a seven-game road trip that began in Texas, where he threw twice before being shut down for two days.
"I just feel that the rehab thing is exhausted at this point," said Hentgen, who's 2-3 with a 3.47 ERA in nine starts covering 62 1/3 innings. "I've tried to do my best to get back on the mound, but I just can't help the club with the way it feels. I'm just disappointed. I'll go see the doctor, but I think I know what's going to happen.
"[Trainer] Richie Bancells said it's the last 20 percent of intensity that really puts stress on the ligament area."
Hentgen's progress stalled once he began throwing from a mound. His fastball stayed in the low 80s, and he experienced the same pain that forced him on the disabled list in his first season with the Orioles after signing a two-year, $9.6 million contract as a free agent that included an option. All of his pitches brought the same discomfort.
"In my mind, I gave it pretty much what I had. It's hard to compete at that level," he said of the diminished velocity. "And on top of that, feeling pain ... it's just been very discouraging the last four or five days. The throwing program went great up until the point where I had to get on a mound and put something on it.
"I couldn't answer the bell after I threw in Texas. Two days after, I tried to throw a side [session] and couldn't get it going. The next day, the same thing.
"I'm up to nine weeks vs. six, which was what the initial rehab was. You come to the point where you could wait nine months and it would probably be there."
If Hentgen needs the surgery, he'd join Matt Riley and Scott Erickson among pitchers who were on the 40-man roster. Erickson went under the knife in August, and he's still not ready to return.
"I'm not really looking forward to seeing Dr. Andrews, let's put it that way," Hentgen said.
"You can sit there and talk about it all you want," Hargrove said, "but until we know for sure, it's just pure speculation. We'll wait, but obviously surgery is a very real possibility."
This is the most serious injury of Hentgen's career. He's made only two stops on the disabled list, the other coming in 1992, the year after breaking into the majors. Hentgen made 183 consecutive starts until being skipped on Aug. 29, 1998, because of a sore shoulder.
"I haven't been the greatest pitcher, but I've been durable and I've always taken pride in that," he said. "Durability is one thing I usually can bring to a team and I just wasn't able to do it, and that's been the most disappointing thing. I go out there and try to compete and give my team a chance to win. To not be able to do that has been bothersome."
Hentgen was examined in Anaheim by Dr. Lewis Yocum, who also provided a grim prognosis.
"It wasn't a real positive meeting with him," Hentgen said. "When I left, I remember Yocum saying, `You're 0-for-4 in the four categories I talked to you about in the ligament area.' Nine weeks is a long time."