O's McLemore tears cartilage in knee, will miss 4 to 8 weeks

MRI confirms the injury

arthroscopic surgery next

Mazzilli: `another obstacle'

Baseball

March 21, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - The Orioles reported to spring training with a surplus of second basemen. The challenge is getting through the last two weeks before they run out.

A magnetic resonance imaging test on Mark McLemore's right knee yesterday confirmed a cartilage tear. He will need arthroscopic surgery and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

McLemore suffered the injury while rounding first base in Friday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Fort Lauderdale. Team physician Dr. Charles Silberstein examined McLemore, and after a radiologist checked the results of yesterday's MRI, the Orioles' roster underwent another change.

Jerry Hairston will begin the season on the disabled list after fracturing the knuckle on his right ring finger during the first exhibition game. Brian Roberts has missed time this spring because of back spasms and a sore groin. So much for depth in the middle infield.

The Orioles signed McLemore, 39, to a minor league contract in February, and he was expected to make the club as a utility player. He would have backed up Roberts on Opening Night.

"There's nothing we can do about it. We just have to get him back as soon as we can," manager Lee Mazzilli said.

"It's another obstacle we have to overcome. Better now than in the middle of the season. You've got to deal with it."

McLemore, who also has been getting treatment for neck stiffness, lined a single to right field in the third inning of the Orioles' 3-1 victory over the Dodgers and tore the medial meniscus as his foot hit the corner of the base.

No date or location has been set for McLemore's surgery.

"We're not quite sure who's going to do it," said Jim Beattie, executive vice president of baseball operations.

Seven years ago, McLemore had arthroscopic surgery on both knees to repair damaged cartilage. He was bothered by soreness in both knees during the second half of the 1998 season.

Beattie said the Orioles are convinced the latest injury isn't related to an old one after consulting with head trainer Richie Bancells.

"From what I know, there wasn't anything bothering him. He was fine, but he just kind of tweaked it the wrong way," Beattie said.

"It's unfortunate," Mazzilli said. "You feel bad for a guy like that. But he'll be back."

The fastest recovery time for the surgery is four weeks, but McLemore's age could extend it to eight.

"You don't know for sure until you go in there and find out how bad it is," Beattie said.

"If it's a simple flap tear," Bancells said, "they just take a piece off."

McLemore was batting .250 with one RBI in eight games. He played for the Orioles from 1992 to 1994 before signing with the Texas Rangers as a free agent.

It's possible that Hairston could return to the 25-man roster in mid-April, but the Orioles will need a backup for at least a few weeks. Clay Bellinger, a non-roster invitee, has played every infield and outfield position in the majors, but he hasn't been used at second base since 2000. He has received only one major league at-bat in the past two years.

Jose Bautista, a Rule 5 draft pick who must stay on the roster all season or be offered back to the Pittsburgh Pirates, has some limited experience at second base in the minors. The Orioles are likely to give him innings there before breaking camp.

Luis Lopez, who returned to the organization last season at Triple-A Ottawa, also is in camp and capable of playing second.

The Orioles have no intention of rushing Mike Fontenot to the majors. He was named their minor league Player of the Year at Double-A Bowie in 2003, but he's scuffling in the field and destined for Ottawa.

McLemore's injury also improves the chances of B.J. Surhoff and Jack Cust making the team.

"We talked yesterday about the makeup of the club and all that," Beattie said. "We're going to have to make due until Hairston gets back. That's just something we'll have to discuss."

Said Mazzilli: "It just opens up another spot. It's something else we've got to look at."

If the Orioles are convinced that Bautista is a suitable fill-in for Roberts, they can retain another outfielder or infielder.

"You'd like someone who can do both," Mazzilli said. "I'm going to have to revamp how I want to piece the team together. I have to sit down and put my roster together again and see what I think is the best way to go. Is it speed? Is it a guy who can play all the positions? That's my job now, I guess."

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