SARASOTA, Fla. -- For every young player trying to win a job in spring training, the greatest fear is an injury or illness that sets back his program.
Time lost at this time of year is irretrievable because somebody is always a step ahead. A veteran can often survive because of past performances, but for someone who isn't established, even the slightest delay can be harmful.
Such is the case with right-hander Anthony Telford, who came into the Orioles camp regarded as one of the front-runners for No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. But a slight muscle pull in his back knocked him out of the intrasquad games, and pushed his first exhibition appearance back two days.
Even then, Telford made his spring debut, last Tuesday against the Phillies, under adverse conditions. One of several Orioles who have battled a flu bug lately, he pitched with a 103-degree temperature.
"I couldn't afford to miss any more time," said Telford.
Did he feel like he was behind schedule? "Let's put it this way: I'm in a hurry to catch up," he said.
While Telford has been trying to solidify his position, Mark Williamson, another candidate for the No. 5 spot, has pitched five perfect innings in two games; left-hander John O'Donoghue has been impressive; and Fernando Valenzuela, a late addition to the mix, has stirred up some support.
The fact that Telford gave up two runs in his first outing -- including the only home run allowed by the Orioles in the first seven games -- only added to his sense of urgency.
It left him in a precarious position going into last night's game against the Chicago White Sox. His fate wasn't to be determined on the basis of his second appearance of the spring, but there was no doubting that Telford couldn't afford to squander many remaining opportunities.
And he didn't drop the ball last night in the Orioles' 6-1 win. He pitched two scoreless innings in relief of starter Arthur Rhodes, allowing only one hit and making several quality pitches. It most definitely was a step in the right direction.
"I tried to look at this as my first day of spring training," said Telford. "I've got the back thing and the flu behind me now and I'll be healthy the rest of the spring."
As for his competition, Telford figures he can't look at anybody other than himself. "I can't worry about what anybody else does," he said. "I just have to worry about me."
Manager Johnny Oates wouldn't directly address Telford's status before or after last night's game. He said the only thing he can concern himself with is what takes place on the field.
"If a player gets behind, I can't help that," said Oates. "All I can do is play them and give them the opportunity when they're healthy.
"Whenever you get hurt in spring training, even if it's only for one day, you fall behind. The question is 'how far?'
"For some, it might be too far, for others it might not be," said Oates.
"The only thing I can do is make sure they get enough of an opportunity when they are able [to play]."
Telford doesn't fret that he won't have ample opportunity to win the fifth job in the starting rotation.
"There's enough time left," he said.
"Before it [spring training] is over, I'm sure I'll have ample opportunity to show them what I can do," said Telford. "I don't think they're going to let me go without seeing enough of me," said Telford. "At least I hope they won't."
Adding to the intrigue about Telford is the fact that he does not have any options left, and the Orioles would have to ask waivers before sending him to the minor leagues.
Rather than risk that, the Orioles would probably try to trade him.
Telford would like to make those possibilities academic. He is hoping to present a more attractive solution, simply by removing any doubt that he's capable of starting on a regular basis in the big leagues.