John Oates is hoping that the positive signs he sees exten to the medical front this week.
While one-run losses continue to be a source of frustration to thOrioles' new manager, he is convinced his club is steadily, if slowly, turning the corner.
And two players who were at the top of the list in terms oimportance to the Orioles are stepping up their rehabilitation work this week. Neither has a timetable for a return, but pitcher Ben McDonald and first baseman Glenn Davis will participate in workouts this week that should give some indication of their progress.
Recovering from a sore elbow, McDonald pushed his pace up a notch during an off-day workout yesterday morning. He threw for 12 minutes without difficulty and will simulate game conditions twice this week in preparation for a conditioning program in the minor leagues.
Davis, who has been sidelined since April 26 with a spinal accessory nerve injury to his neck, will engage in a mild form of batting practice before tonight's game with the Kansas City Royals. "We will soft toss to him in the batting cage," said Oates.
"It's an exercise he's been doing under clinic conditions, but he'going to move into the cage to get a feel for park conditions. We'll see how it goes before they decide on the next step."
Davis is still in the process of rebuilding damaged shouldemuscles. Another strength test is planned that will dictate the pace of his program.
But, just the idea of Davis swinging a bat excites Oates -- even though he has no idea when, or if, the slugger will be able to return to the lineup. It is almost a certainty that Davis would be restricted to designated hitter duties if he returns this year, but at this point that would represent monumental progress.
hTC McDonald's case is totally different. The big righthander is serving his second tour on the disabled list and Oates is determined to make it his last.
"Everything went well," Oates said after yesterday's workout. "There was real progress. Ben went through his regular program, played long toss, and then threw off the mound for 12 minutes.
"He said he had no problems and upgraded himself from abou50 to 75 percent," said Oates. "He will throw again tomorrow under game-type conditions, maybe the equivalent of two innings."
McDonald is scheduled for a rehabilitation assignment in the minor leagues, but when he starts is another question.
"You could consider tomorrow the beginning of his rehab," saiOates. "We'll keep him here for at least two workouts where we can control everything -- the number of pitches and the time between [mythical] innings."
How long McDonald pitches in the minor leagues (he can stay 20 days on a rehabilitation assignment)will depend on his progress.
"He will not pitch in a major-league game again until he is 10percent with all of his pitches and can throw at least 80 pitches," said Oates. "We are using every precaution to make sure he doesn't come back until he's ready."
Oates estimated that, if everything goes right, McDonald coulbe ready to pitch in a minor-league game in "six, seven or eight days."
McDonald opened the season on the disabled list because osoreness in his right elbow. When he returned he was far from the pitcher the Orioles expected, going 2-3 with an inflated 7.02 earned run average.
"Every pitcher experiences soreness, especially during sprintraining," said Oates. "Basically that's what Ben is going through now.
"But he's thrown two straight times now without any pain in the elbow, and that's what is important. When we're convinced he can throw all of his pitches without any pain that's when he'll start [his rehabilitation]."
That should happen sometime next week, but Oates and pitching coach Al Jackson will wait until after McDonald's next two outings to make that decision.
McDonald himself seems confident that his elbow problems aralmost behind him. "When I came back before there was some tightness, and when you have that there's always a little pain," he said. "But we didn't think it was anything I couldn't throw through.
"This past week there's been a lot of difference," said McDonald. "They told me when once it started to get well it would do it in a
hurry and so far they've been right."
Things are a little more complicated with Davis, who hit four home runs and drove in eight runs in 41 at-bats before going on the disabled list. He is being monitored carefully on a daily basis and the soft-toss batting practice is merely the next step in a very cautious program.
"We'll see how he does, see what the doctors think and go from there," said Oates.
In the meantime, the Orioles will continue their struggle to geout of last place in the AL East.
The absence of McDonald and Davis has created a couple of bigaps in the Orioles' roster.
And the question that remains is whether either can return soon enough, and effectively enough, to help make a difference. The Orioles should have a better idea by this time next week.