Clean surgery speeds McLemore timetable

Rehab of 4-6 weeks seen

in meantime, L. Lopez steps in at second base

Baseball

March 24, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - With only a small piece of cartilage needing to be trimmed in his right knee and no complications reported from his surgery, Orioles infielder Mark McLemore could return to the active roster sooner than expected.

McLemore was scheduled to begin his rehab yesterday after having an arthroscopic procedure Monday in Dallas. Dr. Jim Montgomery removed a flap that had folded over, which was causing the pain in McLemore's knee, smoothed the edges and cleaned out the area.

Once projected to miss up to two months, McLemore could return in four to six weeks.

"Some of these [rehabs] take longer, some are quicker," said head trainer Richie Bancells, who spoke yesterday with McLemore and Montgomery.

"From what I understand, it went well. The fact they didn't have to do anything major is good news. The doctor said it was very simple. The knee looked good."

McLemore, 39, suffered the injury during Friday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Fort Lauderdale. He stepped on the corner of first base after a single to center field and tore the medial meniscus in the knee.

Expected to be the Orioles' utility player, and a backup to second baseman Brian Roberts, McLemore left an opening on the 25-man roster. Luis Lopez can play all four infield positions and the outfield, making him a candidate to go north. Manager Lee Mazzilli instead could choose Clay Bellinger, who has the same minor league contract and invitation as Lopez.

Mazzilli said he doesn't want to move Melvin Mora from third base, and he eliminated Jose Bautista, the Rule 5 pick who must stay on the roster all season or be offered back to Pittsburgh. Bautista is a third baseman who also plays the outfield.

"It's unfortunate that [McLemore] got hurt," said Lopez, who is 1-for-9 this spring. "I wish him all the best. He has such an impact on this team. He plays the outfield, he plays the infield, he switch-hits. He brings a lot to the club.

"I never took this as a competition. I don't do that. I just go about my business. Hopefully it will only take a little time for him because it looks like we need him."

Mazzilli was relieved that the surgery didn't reveal anything more serious.

"He's doing great," Mazzilli said. "It's better than it could have been. It's a minor thing. The doctor said it was a simple procedure. I don't know what you classify as simple, but it went well.

"He'll rehab it for a couple weeks and might be back earlier than expected. Obviously you never know with rehab, but knowing him as a person, he'll be back quickly."

Until then, Lopez, 33, must wonder if he'll be leaving camp anytime soon. He's recovered from the strained calf muscle that caused him to miss more than a week, and he's become more appealing to the team as the exhibition schedule shortens.

"The last couple of years I've been though the same thing. I have to go to spring training and make a team," said Lopez, who appeared in 52 games with the Orioles in 2002 before signing with Colorado as a minor league free agent.

"Last year I put too much pressure on myself and it didn't work. With my experience through the years, I told myself this year, `Hey, just go out there and have fun, try to do the things you're capable of doing and try to stay relaxed,' and that's what I've been doing so far. I can only control what I do on the field. If I'm happy with that, whatever happens, it happens. But I don't think there's pressure."

The Orioles purchased Lopez's contract from Triple-A Colorado Springs on June 30, and he batted .263 with six homers and 32 RBIs in 52 games at Ottawa. He's a career .245 hitter in the majors, including time spent with the San Diego Padres, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers.

"I wanted to come back after 2002. I told my agent that and I told the Orioles," he said. "There's no better place to play baseball than Camden Yards. The city's amazing, the fans are great, the organization is top of the line. It's a great atmosphere. Who wouldn't want to play in Baltimore? It's paradise."

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