Tight elbow sidetracks McDonald


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- No one is showing signs of panic, but the Orioles have the first scare of the 1991 season on their hands.

Ben McDonald was scratched from his scheduled start against Montreal in West Palm Beach yesterday because of "tightness" in his elbow. That created immediate speculation about whether he will be ready to pitch Opening Day, April 8.

Manager Frank Robinson and pitching coach Al Jackson downplayed the injury pending a medical examination here tomorrow. But if McDonald can't make his next scheduled start on Wednesday, he almost certainly will be scratched for Opening Day.

If that scenario takes place, can the disabled list be far behind?

"If he didn't make it, it wouldn't be the end of the world," said Jackson. "There's been a lot of guys slated to go who didn't answer the opening bell and still had good years.

"It's too early to tell anything right now. A lot will depend on the next few days."

McDonald admitted he felt discomfort in his elbow in each of his last two outings. "It started with the game we played Texas in the cold and rain [March 16]," he said. "But it went away the last time."

After throwing about 35 pitches during his warmup yesterday, McDonald said the elbow "had more tightness than before" and Jackson immediately shut him down. "He wanted to go out there, but I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if he tried and did something there," said Jackson. "We've got a couple of days to play with, so why not use them?

"This could be nothing more than usual spring training stiffness. After all, we're talking about a guy going through his first full

spring training."

The reason this is McDonald's first full spring training, however, is because he injured his side last April 5, in his last start of the spring.

"Any time your arm hurts there's cause for some concern," said McDonald, 23. "But it's not like I can't throw -- it's only when I try to throw hard that I feel it. I'm not concerned to the point where I think it's anything serious."

That won't be determined until tomorrow, when team orthopedic specialist Dr. Charles Silberstein returns from Baltimore.

"We'll see what happens and we'll know more after that," said Robinson. "If he's able to come back and make his next start, then this is no big deal."

But if McDonald can't pitch Wednesday, it becomes a very big deal, because it could seriously affect the Orioles' rotation for the first month of the season. Because of the off-days, McDonald would be available to start six of the first 21 games, which would enable Robinson to eliminate the necessity for a fifth starter until May. It's doubtful if anyone else other than McDonald would get that opportunity.

In the meantime, the Orioles can only hope this is just a minor irritation and not a major setback as was the case last year, when it took McDonald half the season to regain his spot in the starting rotation.

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