Rivera arrives, but not on the mound

Four days late, pitcher also has sore shoulder

Riley passes `big test'

Notebook

Baseball

February 19, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Luis Rivera finally made it to the Orioles' spring training complex yesterday after touching down in south Florida the previous night. Unfortunately for him, Rivera brought more than his luggage.

Rivera also showed up with some mild inflammation in his right shoulder, which forced him to stop throwing about 10 days ago and will further delay his return to a normal pitching schedule. The club is putting him on a long-toss program rather than allowing him to throw off a mound or face hitters.

"We'll try to catch him up that way," manager Mike Hargrove said.

"It's feeling all right," Rivera said. "I'm just going a little bit slow."

Sort of like his arrival in Fort Lauderdale.

Rivera should have reported on Thursday with the other pitchers and catchers, but was detained after being involved in a minor traffic accident in Mexico. Rivera hit another vehicle, but wasn't injured.

"Everything's fine," he said. "I had to go and fix some problems with the lawyer and insurance."

At some point, his luck is bound to change for the better.

Rivera, 23, didn't pitch last season after needing surgery in March to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He lasted in camp a grand total of 10 days.

Rather than express any frustration over his injuries, which include recurring blisters on his pitching hand in 1999, Rivera said: "It's just part of my job. Unfortunately, it happened to me."

His baseball-related activities since the surgery were restricted to long tossing and throwing off a mound at an early camp in Sarasota, Fla., with no appearances in the Mexican Winter League. Once viewed as a long-shot candidate for the fifth starter's job last spring, Rivera has virtually no chance of making the Opening Day roster.

"I've got a month and a half here," he said. "I hope to be able to pitch in some games."

The Orioles wouldn't mind seeing him on a mound, where appearances have been sparse since the July 31, 2000, trade with Atlanta that also brought catcher Fernando Lunar and since-departed outfielder Trenidad Hubbard for outfielder B.J. Surhoff and reliever Gabe Molina.

Rivera made three starts at Rochester and got into one game with the Orioles after the trade, which instantly put him near the top of their list of pitching prospects. Staying there has been a chore.

"I've got to be able to handle this situation," he said.

Riley lets loose

Matt Riley completed three straight days of bullpen sessions Sunday, throwing his fastball, curve and changeup for 12 minutes.

"The whole arsenal. I felt strongest on my last day," he said.

The smooth progression is significant for a pitcher coming off ligament-transplant surgery 17 months ago. Riley threw for eight minutes on Friday and 10 on Saturday.

"I'm real happy with where I'm at," he said. "That was a big test, to see how my arm held up. It held up real well. I could have thrown four straight days."

Riley rested yesterday and might throw batting practice today.

Hargrove noted after yesterday's workout that Riley has done "a complete 180" from what he saw two springs ago, when the left-hander irritated a veteran clubhouse with late arrivals and a free-spirited manner.

"He's been a hard worker. He's paying attention to what he's doing. He's on time for everything. It's like a light has come on for him," Hargrove said.

Roberts closing in?

Tabbed as the early favorite to leave Florida as the team's closer, Willis Roberts isn't making any assumptions about his role in 2002.

"They haven't told me anything about it," he said. "It doesn't matter where they use me in a game. I'm just ready to pitch."

Roberts was used as a starter by Estrellas of the Dominican Winter League, but his appearances were relatively short, in keeping with a reliever's workload.

"I didn't throw a lot of innings," he said, "but I don't need to."

Around the horn

Outfielders Marty Cordova, Jay Gibbons and Luis Matos and utility player Howie Clark were among yesterday's early arrivals. The first full-squad workout is tomorrow. ... The Orioles continue to dodge injuries early in camp, with general stiffness the only complaint among some pitchers. "That's normal," Hargrove said. "It was a non-throwing day, so it was a good time to be stiff."

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