Fractured ankle finishes Hairston's season

`Starting to have fun' in center, he falls prey to another freak injury

August 19, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Having made a group of reporters wait long enough at his locker yesterday, Orioles center fielder Jerry Hairston pretended to dash toward the back exit of the clubhouse. He might have gotten there if not for the crutches and protective boot.

Hairston knew what was coming: Questions about another injury, this one ending his season after 86 games.

A CT scan taken late Tuesday night at Johns Hopkins Hospital revealed a fracture in Hairston's left ankle, confirming the results of an earlier X-ray. He won't need surgery.

"We saw it [Tuesday] night. We just wanted to make sure," he said. "It's one of those things where it's a small fracture, something that's not serious, but serious enough to put me on the shelf for about four weeks. And that's really the season."

The injury occurred in the eighth inning when Hairston attempted a leaping catch at the fence and landed awkwardly.

"It's a clean fracture, and it'll heal on its own," said Hairston, who must stay on crutches for a few more days and wear the boot for about a month. "It's just one of those things where you've got to wait."

Hairston jammed his heel into the track and immediately felt a sharp pain behind the ankle.

"At least it's nowhere near career-threatening," he said. "It's just another freak injury."

Hairston is beginning to collect them like memorabilia.

He missed more than half of the 2003 season after stumbling across the plate during an at-bat and breaking a bone in his right foot, and began this season on the disabled list with a fractured finger - an injury that occurred when he dived into third base during the first inning of the first exhibition game.

"It's not like I've had chronic, nagging injuries. I've just had a string of freak things happen the last couple of years," he said. "I feel frustrated and a little angry, not because this happened but because I want to play. I was really starting to have fun playing center, enjoying running down balls. And we started winning some games, too. That helps a lot."

Reluctant to move from second base to the outfield, Hairston became the regular center fielder after Luis Matos underwent surgery on his shin. He made a series of diving catches, robbing Mark Kotsay in the first inning Tuesday, and it's possible that he could go into spring training next year as the starter if he isn't traded.

"That's something we'll obviously have to have a conversation with Jerry about first, and see what happens for us from this point forward," said executive vice president Jim Beattie. "We asked a lot of him to do this in midseason. There aren't a lot of players who are capable of doing what Jerry did."

Said Hairston: "I could really see myself getting better at it."

That doesn't mean Hairston, who was batting .303 with two homers and 24 RBIs, wants to abandon second base for good. "Luis Matos is our center fielder. That's not my place," he said. "But I feel right now that I can play anywhere and contribute."

Staying at second would have prevented Hairston from leaping at any fences and injuring his ankle, but he wasn't blaming the position switch.

"Things happen," he said. "I could have come in at second base and turned a double play and blown out a knee, and that would have been devastating. I was the center fielder at that time. I'm not bitter at all."

Beattie said the fracture might have been an old injury. "This is really unfortunate for him," he said. "The funny part is, the way he fell on it, I thought he hurt his right ankle because his weight was on it. It didn't seem like that was something that would cause a break."

The Orioles called up Darnell McDonald from Triple-A Ottawa to replace Hairston, and he started in center last night against Oakland left-hander Mark Mulder. Val Majewski, a third-round draft pick in 2002 whose contract was purchased yesterday from Double-A Bowie when Larry Bigbie went on the disabled list, also will be given a chance to play there.

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