Shoulder shelves Julio, but O's not concerned

Inflammation cuts short closer's winter season

February 06, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles closer Jorge Julio will return to Venezuela on Sunday after participating in a throwing and exercise program at Camden Yards to rid his shoulder of the inflammation that cut short his winter league season.

Concerns within the organization are at a minimum. Only time will determine if they stay there.

Julio, who recorded 36 saves last year, appeared in nine games for La Guaira Tiburones of the Venezuelan Winter League before complaining of a tired arm. The Orioles summoned him to Baltimore, where an examination by team physician Dr. Charles Silberstein, including a magnetic resonance imaging test, revealed tendinitis.

"In broad strokes, that's probably as good a definition as any," said Jim Beattie, executive vice president of baseball operations. "He had a little inflammation in his shoulder, and there were reasons for it that he and [trainer] Richie Bancells have been working on to strengthen it. He had some weaknesses in there that caused it as much as pitching did."

Julio, the second pitcher in club history with 25 or more saves in his first two full major league seasons, has spent three weeks in Baltimore performing various exercises for his shoulder and throwing on the side. His workload gradually increased to 40 pitches and brought back his usual velocity. He didn't require a cortisone injection.

"I feel good right now and ready for spring training," said Julio, who will report to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the other pitchers on Feb. 20. "I'm throwing hard right now."

Said Beattie: "Richie said he's had no problems and feels very comfortable. It was addressed well."

Julio was limited to 9 1/3 innings with La Guaira after logging 61 2/3 for the Orioles. He went 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA and four saves, allowing seven hits, walking four and striking out six. Opponents batted .219 against him.

Working the ninth inning in his last outing, Julio said his arm began to "bother" him.

"It was feeling weak," he said.

It was serious enough for the Orioles to shut him down.

"We addressed it aggressively, recognizing we had some time to do that," Beattie said. "I think it was a bit of overuse, considering how he was used down there. He threw quite a bit there for 10 days or so. But I think it also was an indication of some other things that we dealt with, some weaknesses in the shoulder. When you're dealing with the shoulder, you're talking about little muscles that play a large role."

Julio's health presented a rare downer for a team that has been lauded in baseball circles this winter for upgrading its roster with free agents Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro, Sidney Ponson and Mike DeJean.

"This isn't a problem," Julio said. "Sometimes your arm gets tired."

The Orioles signed DeJean to replace Kerry Ligtenberg in a right-handed setup role, but they also intend to give him some save chances while resting Julio after consecutive appearances. DeJean has 52 saves in seven major league seasons, including 19 last year with the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Julio's eight blown saves ranked third in the American League behind Cleveland's Danys Baez (now with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays) and Texas' Francisco Cordero, and were one short of the team record held by Don Aase and Mike Timlin. He was 0-7, the most losses without earning a win in a single season in team history.

DeJean represents insurance in case Julio slumps again this summer, as he has been prone to do, and especially if the inflammation returns.

Asked if he looked forward to being the closer on Opening Day, Julio said, "I don't know. I don't care. Whatever job the Orioles give me, I'll take it. I need a job."

Orioles FanFest

When: Tomorrow, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

Tickets: $10 for adults, and $5 for children 12 and under and those older than 55.

Orioles expected: Manager Lee Mazzilli, Kurt Ainsworth, Rick Bauer, Larry Bigbie, Jack Cust, Omar Daal, Eric DuBose, Jay Gibbons, Jerry Hairston, Jorge Julio, Javy Lopez, Melvin Mora, Rafael Palmeiro, John Parrish, Sidney Ponson, Tim Raines Jr., Matt Riley, Brian Roberts, B.J. Ryan, B.J. Surhoff, Miguel Tejada.

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