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Health climbs back into starting rotation


MILWAUKEE -- The Orioles' rotation is coming back, bit by bit. Manager Phil Regan offered good news about his injured starters yesterday:

* Ben McDonald, on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, told Regan on Sunday night that his arm felt much, much better. "He had no pain," said Regan.

McDonald will be in Alabama today to have his arm checked by Dr. James Andrews, and Regan hopes that Andrews will confirm that McDonald's shoulder is OK. If so, Regan said, McDonald could throw on the side a few times and be ready to pitch Sunday, the day he's eligible to come off the disabled list.

* Regan is considering starting left-hander Sid Fernandez, on the DL with a sore muscle below his left clavicle, Thursday in Toronto. Fernandez's velocity improved dramatically from his first rehabilitation start for Double-A Bowie to his second.

Regan seemed to be leaning toward starting Fernandez against the Blue Jays. But on Sunday night, the consensus within the organization was that the left-hander could use one more rehabilitation start, for Triple-A Rochester on Thursday.

If Fernandez does start in Toronto, Scott Klingenbeck could be bumped back in the rotation, pitching out of the bullpen for the next couple of days, and then possibly start Saturday. In this case, Jamie Moyer would be moved from the rotation to the bullpen.

"I could envision that if Ben comes back OK out of this," Regan said, "we could have four of our five starters back by the All-Star break."

* Regan said he didn't expect Kevin Brown, sidelined when the tip of his right index finger was dislocated last week, or third

baseman Jeff Manto (hamstring pull) to return to action until after the July 10-12 All-Star break.

Manto told Regan that if he healed sufficiently, he wanted to go on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment during the All-Star break.

Harris grievance?

The Orioles continued to mull the possibility of filing a grievance against the Philadelphia Phillies for allegedly trading damaged goods, in the case of reliever Gene Harris.

The Orioles acquired Harris for Andy Van Slyke on June 18, and then after his third appearance with the team Saturday night, he complained of severe elbow trouble. He was placed on the disabled list Sunday, and the Orioles fear he will need reconstructive surgery.

Orioles officials may file the complaint, but at least two say

privately that they don't expect anything to come of it. The Detroit Tigers filed a similar grievance against the San Diego Padres last year after acquiring Harris in May, but the commissioner's office basically told the two parties to settle it themselves.

Harris' career with the Orioles could continue, however, even if -- he does require surgery. Improvements in the surgical techniques and rehabilitation have reduced the recovery time from around 18 months to less than a year; Harris could be back throwing again next spring.

In some cases, pitchers have thrown harder after the surgery than before -- Orioles reliever Terry Clark, for example, whose fastballs was clocked in the mid-80s before he blew out his elbow, and is around 90 mph now. Harris has a good arm, anyway, being clocked in the mid-90s on Saturday night.

The signing game

Alvie Shepherd Jr., the Orioles' No. 1 pick in this year's amateur draft, likely will watch tonight's game at County Stadium with scouting director Gary Nickels. Shepherd, a right-handed pitcher from the University of Nebraska, is unsigned, like nearly all of the first-round picks.

Teams are waiting for other teams to sign players and establish the market in a strange financial year for baseball. Hence, many players chosen in the first and second rounds, like Shepherd, are just sitting at home.

"I would imagine both parties will get a handle on it soon," said Alvie Shepherd Sr. "Now, we're more or less in a holding pattern. I would imagine we'll get it done pretty soon."

Around the horn

The Orioles' interest in second baseman Bill Ripken, playing for the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate, has waned, mostly because Manny Alexander is playing well. . . . The Orioles are having no luck in their efforts to deal second baseman Bret Barberie. Talks with the Padres about Barberie have ended. . . . Early in the month, when Barberie and Alexander were struggling, the Orioles made cursory inquiries into acquiring Minnesota second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, but the club believed the Twins' asking price -- three or four top prospects -- was too high. . . . The New York Mets reportedly have offered second baseman Jeff Kent for outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, but Orioles officials said they had absolutely no interest in such a deal. . . . There have been no more discussions about giving pitcher Mike Mussina an extra year or two on the two-year contract he signed earlier this month. The Orioles probably are waiting for Mussina to break out of his recent funk.

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