Baines goes on DL Leonard is called up


TORONTO -- Don't try the "cheer up, things could be worse" routine with Johnny Oates.

On Wednesday the Orioles' manager was cheered temporarily by a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Twins -- and yesterday things got worse. Harold Baines, the club's leading hitter with a .344 batting average, went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right rib-cage muscle. Mark Leonard was called up from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings to take his place.

hTC It was the second time in a week that a key player was put on the DL by the Orioles, who went through spring training and the first month of the season without a physical ailment worse than a common virus. "As I said on my [pre-game] radio show -- when it rains, it pours," said Oates.

For Baines, who has a long history of knee ailments, it is only the second time in his 13-year career that he has been disabled. "If I'm not able to play, they had to make a decision," said Baines, who acknowledged there had been no progress since he suffered the injury Tuesday night against the Twins.

"Walking around, it feels better," he said, "but I haven't swung [a bat] yet, so I really can't make a judgment. I won't swing until there's nothing there."

That, apparently won't be for at least another week, which prompted the Orioles to put Baines on the DL and recall the left-handed-hitting Leonard. "I don't think they [the doctors] can predict how long it will take [for Baines to heal]," said Oates, "but it'll be at least seven days before he can swing again.

"With the makeup of our team right now, we can't afford to play short-handed. It [the injury] is a tough one to call. I don't think anyone can say exactly when Harold will be back.

"But it's not like it's a broken arm," said Oates. "I don't think he'll need more than 15 days. The original diagnosis was two days to X, but it's been two days and he can't even take batting practice."

Although rib-cage muscles have been known to sometimes heal slowly, Baines doesn't think his will have long-term repercussions. "I don't think so, because it's not pulled," he said. "But that could happen if I tried to come back too soon."

The injury to Baines came only two days after Mike Devereaux suffered a shoulder separation that is expected to keep him out of the lineup at least six weeks. A year ago, Devereaux led the Orioles with 107 RBI and last week had shown signs of recovering from a slow start.

The loss of Baines on the heels of the injury to Devereaux, and with Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis struggling with the bat, leaves the Orioles in a precarious offensive situation. They now have Rochester's entire starting outfield on the roster, with Leonard joining Jack Voigt and Damon Buford.

At this point, Oates is unsure how the mix will work. Voigt, who was called up when Luis Mercedes was traded to the San Francisco Giants, has yet to start a game. But Buford, who replaced Devereaux, has started three straight games in center field since his arrival, and last night he hit his first major-league home run.

Oates will not commit to a role for Leonard, who was obtained from the Giants this spring for infielder Steve Scarsone. Last night, he was used as a pinch hitter in the eighth and hit a sacrifice fly that drove in a run.

"I wouldn't say he'll be used in a platoon situation," Oates said in response to a question about Leonard, who arrived at SkyDome after the third inning last night.

"We'll see how things go before determining his role. We'll see how Sherman [Obando] continues to swing the bat and if Mark [McLemore] continues to swing the bat left-handed.

"He [Leonard] gives us a left-handed bat as a pinch-hitter, a designated hitter or as a starter in the outfield," said Oates. "The reports [from Rochester] are that he's swinging the bat well lately, better than he was earlier in the year."

At the time of his promotion, Leonard was third in the International League with 19 RBI in 23 games and had a 10-game hitting streak. His overall average was .263, with seven doubles and three home runs among his 21 hits.

Obando has filled the DH role in the past two games with five hits and two RBI, and indications are he'll get a prolonged opportunity while Baines is sidelined. But Oates said nothing is carved in stone during these scrambling days.

"We don't have a [set] plan," said Oates. "Everything around here right now is day-to-day."

Or injury-to-injury.

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