Phil Regan arrived at Camden Yards yesterday prepared for bad news.
He had seen Kevin Brown's right index finger grotesquely misshapen after the right-hander was hit by a line drive Thursday night, and the Orioles manager was sure that upon further examination, doctors would find the finger to be broken, a serious injury for a pitcher.
But Regan and Brown got good news: While the finger was dislocated at the top knuckle, there was little corollary damage, and Brown could be back in three weeks, or around the All-Star break.
"This is much better than I thought," said Regan, who had expected Brown to be out four to six weeks, or longer.
Brown and fellow starter Ben McDonald (inflamed shoulder tendon) were placed on the 15-day disabled list after Thursday night's game, but now their absences don't seem quite so indefinite. Brown told Regan that he will try to get back in the rotation in two weeks, although that's unlikely, and there's a chance McDonald could be activated close to the time he's eligible to come off the disabled list, July 2.
"I'm going to do everything I can to speed it along," said Brown, who will attempt to throw wearing a splint to keep his arm in shape, once the swelling in his finger subsides.
In the meantime, the Orioles will try to get by with a Mike and The Mechanics rotation: ace Mike Mussina and Scott Klingenbeck, Arthur Rhodes, Jamie Moyer and either Mike Oquist or Jimmy Haynes.
Late Thursday night, the Orioles seemed to be leaning toward calling up Triple-A pitcher Haynes, one of the club's top prospects, to fill in for Brown. But yesterday, their thinking changed toward starting Oquist, who has been used in long relief and pitched 4 2/3 innings after Brown departed Thursday.
Oquist would give the Orioles more of a known quantity, someone who they would feel sure is going to pitch five innings. Haynes, with no major-league experience, could fall flat at a time when the Orioles' relievers are already taxed (right-handers Jimmy Myers and Armando Benitez were recalled late Thursday night from Rochester to help the exhausted bullpen). And there is strong sentiment in the organization that Haynes would be better off pitching in Triple-A for the rest of this season.
When Brown was in the training room after suffering his injury, several players stopped by to take a peek and were appalled at how bad the dislocation looked. On the X-ray, the bony tip of Brown's finger was completely separated from the rest at the knuckle, and remained that way until being re-set by club doctor Michael Jacobs.
Nevertheless, Brown said he was told there was relatively little ligament damage, a tear to a lower ligament that had little to do with the movement in the finger. Brown, too, is lucky in this: He uses his middle finger to apply most of the pressure to his sinking fastball, while his index finger is used primarily to guide the ball. An injury to his middle finger, then, would've been much worse.
Brown suffered the injury as he leaped and reached with his bare hand for a liner by Troy O'Leary, a habit of his that managers and pitching coaches have been trying to curb for years.
Boston's Kevin Kennedy, who managed Brown in Texas, said he talked to Brown about reaching for grounders constantly.
"It's an instinct thing," Kennedy said. "It's tough to break. He's competitive. He wants to knock the ball down."
Said Boston's Roger Clemens: "It's a bad habit, I've done it a few times. It's a hard thing to break."
Many pitchers end the habit by reminding themselves perpetually never to reach for any ball barehanded. Others practice by hold their bare hands behind their back.
"Maybe I can come up with some Pavlovian treatment," mused Brown, when asked how he learn to end the habit. "I've never had to deal with that.
"It's not something I think about. It's just a reaction. I've gotten hit before, but it's never been this serious."
McDonald could be back July 2, or his shoulder trouble could keep him out longer. McDonald tried playing catch with Bret Barberie in the batting cages during Thursday night's game, but stopped after just 20 pitches. The pain in his shoulder, caused by an inflamed tendon, had not gone away.
"You don't how these type of things go," McDonald said. "A week, two weeks, a month, whatever. As far as putting a timetable on it, it's too hard."
But McDonald said he feels he is improving gradually, and there's a chance he and Brown could be back in the rotation around the All-Star break.
Regan admitted that this was a better scenario than he expected.
A NEW PITCH
With injuries to Ben McDonald and Kevin Brown, the Orioles' starting rotation has a new look:
1. Mike Mussina: The ace, although in his two starts before last night, he was less than that.
2. Scott Klingenbeck: Last Monday morning, the Orioles were thinking about returning him to the minors after his start that night. Now he's a mainstay.
3. Arthur Rhodes: Started the year at No. 5, but was sent down to the minors to work on his delivery and control.
4. Jamie Moyer: For most of this year, he has been used as a middle reliever. They really need him to provide six or seven innings consistently.
5. Mike Oquist: He had a 1-3 record and an 8.62 ERA in his nine starts last year, but he has pitched effectively in relief this year.