Sounds of silence sweet to Williamson

No popping and no clicking in elbow the best bit of news Orioles reliever could hear

February 23, 2007|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Reliever Scott Williamson can see the improvements in the way he's throwing the ball in his first spring training camp with the Orioles.

Most importantly, he's not hearing anything.

No clicking, no popping. The silence in his reconstructed right elbow is golden.

Williamson underwent his third surgery after last season, with Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the Cincinnati Reds' medical director and chief orthopedic physician, removing two large bone chips from his elbow that were lodged in the joint.

"It's hard to pitch when you're hurt like that," Williamson said before a recent workout, "but you just get out there and do what you can."

The Orioles are hoping that Williamson can prove a bargain at $900,000, the cost of signing him as a free agent in a market that otherwise spiraled out of control.

Williamson represents the smallest portion of the $42 million that the Orioles spent on four relievers in an attempt to upgrade a bullpen that posted the second-highest ERA in the majors last season. He's been a closer, setup man and starter. The Orioles probably would settle for him being healthy.

Back in 2001, Williamson pitched only twice for the Reds before undergoing ligament-reconstructive surgery in April, which was performed by Kremcheck and Dr. James Andrews. He returned the following season and made 63 appearances, then the most in his career, but twice went on the disabled list with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 because of an inflamed elbow and strained forearm.

Williamson underwent another reconstructive surgery after the season, but the Chicago Cubs took a chance and signed him as a free agent, waiting patiently until he came off the disabled list in August.

Last year, Williamson was a combined 2-4 with a 5.72 ERA with the Cubs and San Diego Padres. His 42 appearances and 39 1/3 innings, totals that were held down because of his two stops on the disabled list with right lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and bone chips, were the most he compiled in three seasons.

"The last couple years, I came back a little too quick," said Williamson, 31, who is projected as a middle reliever. "The first time it took me about a year and a half. I missed the whole season and came back the following season. The second one, I had it in October and I was back in the big leagues in August. I came back too soon and was having complications from it.

"They went in this offseason and cleaned out my elbow, and it's the best that it's felt in a long time. It feels free and easy. I'm real pleased with the way I've been throwing so far this spring. No pain or anything like that. I'm looking forward to the season."

To make sure Williamson is ready when it starts, manager Sam Perlozzo intends to go "a little slow with him" at the beginning.

"We'll be careful of what we do with him and not overextend him," Perlozzo said. "He's also another guy that is a veteran who will help dictate that to us. I talked to him and he said his arm felt better at this point in the spring than it has in a while. So I think we've already made strides with him."

Reliever Alan Embree, one of Williamson's closest friends in baseball, also had serious elbow problems that led to Tommy John surgery and a tumultuous 2005 season split between the Red Sox and New York Yankees, when he posted a 7.62 ERA and allowed 10 homers in 52 innings. He was much better with the Padres last season, going 4-3 with a 3.27 ERA in 52 1/3 innings.

"If you pitch long enough, something bad is going to happen," said Embree, who signed with the Oakland Athletics over the winter. "Scotty is a good kid. He was worried about whether he'd be able to pitch again. He'd ask me why he felt certain ways. There are going to be bumps along the way. It's like learning to walk again."

The Orioles will find out whether Williamson can rebound in the same manner as Embree. They were eager to know, signing him Nov. 30, three days after Danys Baez and the same day as Chad Bradford.

"I know he was excited because those guys were already committed to the bullpen and he wanted to be part of it," executive vice president Mike Flanagan said. "We've liked him for a while. It's always been a question of health, but reports were good. He's a nice sleeper with a good track record."

"I was doing my throwing program this offseason, and it feels like my arm is back to where it was in '99, 2000, where it was nice and free and easy," Williamson said. "It's real positive seeing the ball coming out of my hand like it's been coming out. ... I put my body through a lot of stretching, trying to prevent another injury."

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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