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Neck injury to keep Thome sidelined through August

Veteran designated hitter can't resume baseball activities before September

By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

8:21 PM EDT, August 6, 2012

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Designated hitter Jim Thome, who originally thought he'd be out just a few days with neck spasms, will now be lost at least until September with a herniated disk in his neck.

The 41-year-old Thome said doctors told him after an epidural late last week that he won't be able to resume baseball activities for 30 days — which puts his return to the Orioles until after rosters are expanded on Sept. 1. Thome said he'll continue to do his daily exercises for his lower-back issues, and, therefore, will hopefully be ready to start swinging once given the OK.

"With injuries, I don't try to put a date because that can always change for the plus and minus sides. Unfortunately we're dealing with this," said Thome, who originally thought he had neck spasms from sleeping awkwardly until an MRI revealed a fresh herniation. "We'll get it over as quick as we can and move on, but be positive and do the best we can to get back as quick as we can."

Thome batted .261 with a .354 on-base percentage and two homers and six RBIs in 18 games for the Orioles after being acquired for two minor-leaguers from the Philadelphia Phillies on June 30. He hasn't played since July 27.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he's looking at the injury in a positive way — that Thome and injured starter Jason Hammel can help re-energize the team in a potential pennant race.

"It looks very optimistic that (Thome) will be able to play for us for September if it continues to be managed like it is," Showalter said. "We feel like we're going to have two real good September additions — not from our minor leagues — in Jim Thome and Jason Hammel. We hope. Knock on wood."

Thome, who said he isn't in any pain after the epidural, said the timing of the injury is unfortunate because he felt he could help the upstart Orioles stay in the postseason hunt.

"It is (disappointing), it is, because we're in a pennant race. You come over, you want to help," Thome said. "These guys have had a great year and I want to be a part of that. And it's still not over."

Thome was asked whether — in a perfect world — he wants to play again next year. But he hinted that he didn't want to end his career with an injury.

"I don't want to say yes, no. But you know what? This maybe changes my thinking a little bit. Maybe I do want to play a little bit longer," he said. "Again, I am trying to get back. I am not worried about next year. I think I'm trying to focus on this year, try to do the best to get back as quick as I can and to help us maybe accomplish and reach some special things here toward the end of September, through October. We'll come to that once that timeframe hits."

Janet Marie Smith leaves for L.A.

Orioles vice president for planning and development Janet Marie Smith, whose conceptual fingerprints are all over Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the newly renovated Ed Smith spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., has accepted a similar position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Smith was the Orioles' architectural consultant during the original planning and construction of Oriole Park and also played a significant role in the stadium improvements that were unveiled at the start of this year's 20th anniversary celebration. Presumably, as senior VP of the Dodgers, she will play the same role with the club's ownership group — led by former Washington Nationals' and Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten — that is preparing to spend more than $100 million to upgrade Dodger Stadium.

"Honestly, I couldn't be happier with the things I did with Peter Angelos,'' Smith said in a telephone interview. "He was extraordinary. I think what we did in Sarasota was a magical transformation and I think the things we did in Camden Yards were just what the Orioles needed to freshen up the place and help keep it current."

Smith's departure probably shouldn't come as a big surprise, since the two-year project to upgrade Oriole Park is complete and Smith was an obvious choice to oversee the project to modernize the Dodgers' 50-year-old home, especially with Kasten, whom she worked with in Atlanta, there.

"I'm thrilled to be working for Stan Kasten for the second time. He's such a visionary guy," she said. "I told Peter that he'll probably call me again. I worked for Larry Lucchino (in Baltimore and Boston) twice and now Stan twice and it would be great to someday work for Peter again."

In a prepared statement, Angelos, the Orioles' managing partner, said: "In Sarasota, the goal was to create a ballpark that the local community and all of our fans would be proud to visit, and after two record-setting springs, this has clearly been achieved. At Oriole Park, we asked Janet Marie to enhance the fan experience, honor our history, and revitalize some areas of the ballpark with new, more contemporary concepts. … Those objectives have resulted in bringing our fans the Roof Deck, Dempsey's (restaurant) and the Orioles Legends sculptures. Janet Marie was the perfect choice to oversee these projects, and we wish her the best of luck in her new role with the Dodgers."

McLouth looking forward to first home game

In an eight-season big-league career, outfielder Nate McLouth has started six games at Camden Yards — all in interleague play as part of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves.

At some point this homestand, he'll start as an Oriole at Camden Yards, where he is 6-for-22 (.272 average) with one solo homer. He wasn't in Monday's starting lineup.

"It's a great park and it's kind of one of the first of the newer-type of stadiums and it's a good place to hit and a beautiful ballpark, so I am excited," said McLouth, 30, whose contract was purchased from Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday. "I've had some struggles the past few years and I am very appreciative to have an opportunity to be here with a great organization that's in a great situation at this point in the season."

Machado named EL Player of Week

Double-A Bowie shortstop Manny Machado became the first Baysox player since L.J. Hoes last August to win the Eastern League Player of the Week Award. In the week that ended Sunday, Machado batted .476 and hit for the cycle Saturday night, adding a game-winning two-run home run. He finished the week with five runs scored, two doubles, a triple, a home run and three RBIs. In 106 games this season, the 20-year-old is batting .262 with 56 runs scored and 57 RBIs.

Around the horn

Showalter said designated hitter Nick Johnson (right wrist) is a "longshot" to return in September. He has been on the disabled list since June 28, sidelined with an injury that has hampered him for years. … Right-hander Stu Pomeranz (back) canceled his half-mound session in Sarasota on Monday due to left leg discomfort. He will be re-examined by doctors because the issue is believed to be related to his back problems. … Kevin Gausman, the Orioles' top pick in this year's draft, made his pro debut Monday for short-season Aberdeen. Gausman retired all nine State College batters he faced in three perfect innings. He struck out two. … The first 10,000 fans age 15 and older at Thursday's game will receive a Wei-Yin Chen T-shirt, which will feature "Orioles" and Chen's name in Mandarin Chinese. The rookie lefty is from Taiwan.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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