Health issues keep Segui question mark on O's roster

Wrist still healing, veteran survives first spring start

March 08, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - The lump is visible on David Segui's left wrist. Even as he expresses relief over how it has shrunk in size over the past few days, it's still impossible to miss. He accepts it almost as part of the uniform, one of the sacrifices necessary to continue playing.

Segui appeared in his first game yesterday, starting at first base in the Orioles' 6-1 loss to the Florida Marlins. In six innings, he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout before Walter Young replaced him.

Recovering from his second surgery on the wrist in two years, again to repair a damaged tendon and cartilage, Segui hit during the first day of workouts before the Orioles pulled him from the cage because of some stiffness that affected his swing.

"It's loosened up," he said. "The pain's still there, but at least I have my range of motion. That was the big problem. For whatever reason, I wasn't able to take a full swing."

He didn't take one on the first pitch thrown to him yesterday. Segui checked his swing, fell behind 1-2 and grounded to third baseman Miguel Cabrera.

Still facing Carl Pavano in the fourth, Segui grounded a 1-1 pitch to shortstop Alex Gonzalez. He struck out in the sixth against Chad Fox, after Mike Fontenot doubled with one out and Mark McLemore walked. He didn't pull the ball in any at-bat, twice slapping it to the left side.

The Orioles have remained patient with Segui, 37, partly because of the surgery six months ago, partly because of his past.

Segui appeared in only 67 games last season, raising his three-year total with the club to 175. He made three trips to the disabled list, the last on July 26, and his time as an everyday first baseman apparently has expired.

The Orioles signed Rafael Palmeiro as a free agent, locking up the position for 2004. Other players on the roster, including B.J. Surhoff, who agreed to terms on another minor league contract in January, give manager Lee Mazzilli options if Palmeiro needs a rest.

At this point, anything Segui contributes is viewed as a bonus - at $7 million in the final year of his contract. Team executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan shaped the roster as if he wouldn't play, but they seem willing to make room, perhaps choosing between Surhoff and Jack Cust, two left-handed hitters.

Mazzilli indicated last week that outfielder Marty Cordova won't be ready for Opening Day after having ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow last summer, so one spot is freed up. Cordova will go on the disabled list. Segui is trying not to join him.

"We felt if we have David Segui, we're a much better club if he's healthy," Beattie said. "If he's not, you've got to fill in a little. We can't really plan on it."

Given another opportunity to leave camp last spring as the Orioles' No. 3 hitter, Segui fractured his right thumb on March 12 while fielding grounders before a game in Fort Myers. He made it through yesterday's drills and handled every chance against the Marlins without a miscue.

"He looked good in the field and had some good at-bats," Mazzilli said. "He felt good. We'll play him [today] and see how he does in back-to-back games."

Segui swung at home for a few weeks before reporting to Fort Lauderdale, but the wrist flared up after one day and pushed back his debut. He received daily treatments from the medical staff, and he waited. With so many injuries in recent years, he has learned to be patient.

"A lump formed, and I have no idea why," said Segui, who remains the Orioles' highest-paid player for 2004, not including the signing bonuses given to Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez as part of their free-agent deals.

"It goes up and it goes down. Today, it's hardly there at all."

If only the wrist were his sole physical concern. Segui also was bothered by a strange sensation in his forearm.

"It was like a shin splint. It kind of deadens your arm," he said.

The wrist always will bring him pain, the same as both knees. Segui can handle it. And he's willing to push himself a little more next year, if a team has interest, before retiring.

Rather than look too far into the future, the Orioles are trying to squeeze one healthy season out of him. He could be the primary designated hitter and back-up first baseman or an expensive pinch hitter. Or he could be on another operating table.

"He's a quality hitter. We know he's done it in the past," Mazzilli said. "But we have to make sure that injury's to where he can go every day."

The middle of the order is occupied now, so Segui would have to move down. Mazzilli mentioned the sixth spot and the seventh. It's a best-case scenario predicated on Segui's season not being interrupted, his body not abandoning him again.

"There's a lot of different ways to go," Mazzilli said, "but we're getting way ahead of ourselves right now."

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