Rotation's latest injury turns Orioles' hopes upside down

Commentary

May 05, 2007|By PETER SCHMUCK

It will be months before the Orioles are mathematically eliminated from the American League East race, but you could make the case that they were medically eliminated yesterday.

The announcement sent a justifiable shiver through the entire organization. Left-hander Adam Loewen, one of the cornerstones of the club's supposedly bright pitching future, became the fourth Orioles starting pitcher to go on the disabled list ... and not just for a couple of weeks.

Turns out, Loewen's lingering forearm soreness is the result of a stress fracture in one of the franchise's most valuable left arms. He won't pick up a baseball for at least the next two months and won't pitch again - best-case scenario - until late July. In other words, they might as well unfurl a banner on the B&O warehouse that says "Wait Until Next Year."

In a baseball town where hope already was a rare commodity, whatever optimism the Orioles brought into the season was borne on the shoulders of the team's five emerging young pitchers - Loewen, Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, closer Chris Ray and starter-in-waiting Hayden Penn.

And then there were three. Penn, who was projected to enter the rotation later this season, just underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and will be sidelined at least until August. Loewen's prognosis remains unclear because he will seek a second medical opinion before making a final decision on a course of treatment.

One thing is certain: The one area where the Orioles were believed to have sufficient depth, thanks to the offseason acquisition of two veteran starters and four solid relievers, has turned out to be something of a house of cards.

The Orioles moved decisively to sign free agent Steve Trachsel when Kris Benson informed them right before spring training that he was leaning toward rotator cuff surgery, but their options were more limited when Jaret Wright came up sore after his second start.

For the moment, long reliever Jeremy Guthrie has assumed Wright's place in the rotation and reliever Brian Burres will make Loewen's scheduled start tomorrow, but the club may soon be faced with the difficult choice of accelerating young Garrett Olson or dealing for another stopgap veteran.

Whichever direction the front office takes, one thing ought to be obvious at this point. Whatever chance the Orioles had of being reasonably competitive in the AL East has been replaced with the sad likelihood that they will now be struggling to fend off the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at the other end of the standings.

The stated preseason goal of the team was to finish around .500, but that was with a rotation of Bedard, Loewen, Cabrera, Wright and Trachsel, with Penn waiting for a chance to break through. The current rotation now includes three pitchers who weren't even part of the club's thought process a month before spring training.

Sadly, we've already seen what happens when the new and improved bullpen gets overworked, and it looks like we're going to be seeing more of the same for quite some time.

Sadly, Loewen's potential breakthrough year has run aground, perhaps sending him back to square one in 2008.

Sadly, manager Sam Perlozzo may never get the chance to put his best team on the field in what could be a make-or-break season for him and his coaching staff.

During a late afternoon media conference, Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette tried to keep the focus on Loewen's still-bright future, but they had to be thinking the same thing as everybody else.

What else can go wrong?

The Orioles have suffered through nine straight losing seasons and - one month into 2007 - what's to stop them from completing a full decade of despair?

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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