Worthington may find his ticket out is one-way.


Craig Worthington is going to Rochester on a rehabilitatio assignment, and he might not be coming back. His right hamstring injury changed everything. So did Leo Gomez's sudden explosion against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Gomez drove in four runs in four games over the weekend, anmaybe drove the final stake through Worthington's Orioles career as well. No one is saying as much, but you can sense it in the clubhouse, sense it even in Worthington.

"I have nothing bad to say about the organization - they'vtreated me awesome," he said after last night's 3-2 loss at Memorial Stadium. "You wish things could just be easy, that you could spend 15 years in the same organization.

"That almost never happens. Some guys stay in an organization a long time, but they're few and far between. I'm not saying I'm out of here. But we've got to see what happens in the next two weeks."

Worthington was referring to his rehabilitation assignment. Hdidn't come off the 15-day disabled list as expected when the Orioles returned home from Minnesota last week. Club trainers listed him as "95 percent," but it wasn't enough.

Manager John Oates needed a sure thing, Gomez was hot aRochester, and third base might never be the same. Worthington doesn't want to start his assignment until he is completely healthy. Gomez, meanwhile, is rendering him moot.

It was only four games, but Gomez didn't make an error anproduced one-third as many RBIs as Worthington has all season. To recap: A triple and game-winning single Thursday. An RBI single and three walks Friday. Another hit Saturday. And his first major-league homer last night. And

The Orioles fell 9 1/2 games back, but look at the bright side: Witone-third of their season complete, it appears they've finally settled on a third baseman. The question now is what will happen to Worthington, who led major-league rookies with 70 RBIs in 1989.

The club naturally is anxious for him to regain his stroke at Rochester, just as Gomez did after his demotion May 6. Worthington isn't balking, but it seems almost as if he's struggling with the idea of returning to Triple A, not that he has any choice.

Last night he said he was "really close" to giving his consentpredicting "it should be this week, no doubt about it." His assignment can last a maximum of 20 days. After that, the Orioles must activate him or option him to Rochester.

Worthington, 26, no doubt fears the latter - he was batting only .225 with four homers and 12 RBIs before going on the disabled list May 20. Gomez, 24, wasn't hitting at the time, but eventually was recalled, making Worthington almost an afterthought.

A trade would be to everyone's advantage, but what else inew? The Orioles have been trying to deal Worthington since last winter. The New York Yankees recently displayed mild interest, but promoted rookie infielder Pat Kelly and started winning. End of discussion.

The problem is, Worthington can't force a move until he resumeplaying. Hamstrings are tricky, so Oates gives him the benefit of the doubt. But this is the same player who reported late for spring training after his rookie season. The last thing he needs is to revive all the old questions about his desire.

"Sometime before he gets back on this roster, he's got to get some at-bats," Oates said. "The longer he waits, the more at-bats it's going to take.

"I don't expect him to go before he's healthy. But the day he'ready, he should go play. Even if Gomez got hurt right now, I couldn't use him. I'd have to put [Tim] Hulett back at third."

Thus, Worthington is third on a depth chart where two monthago he was first. Both he and Gomez made the Opening Day roster, but as the incumbent it was Worthington's job to lose. Gomez played sparingly, batted .222, and lost his spot. Except for the injury, everything went Worthington's way.

Until now.

"If I'm still hitting I'm going to play," Gomez said. "At thbeginning of the year I tried to do much, thinking if I didn't get a hit today, I wouldn't play tomorrow. But right now he's out. They've given me a chance. I'm hungry to play baseball. I'm here to do my job."

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