Once willing to project left-hander Jimmy Key's return from an irritated rotator cuff for later this month, the Orioles now believe their No. 3 starter could be lost for the remainder of the season because of the condition.
Key acknowledged before last night's game against the Seattle Mariners that a series of rotator cuff exercises performed Sunday in the club's weight room left him extremely sore. Though results of an arthrogram performed Thursday did not suggest a fresh tear to an area already operated upon four times, the weakness Key continues to experience suggests a more serious problem than the Orioles had anticipated.
"It's very frustrating. You can only do what your body will let you do. I'm as clueless about this as anybody," Key said.
The situation exaggerates an already frantic time. The Orioles have tried to initiate trades with several teams for pitching, but have encountered an arid market. Club officials scrambled to find out details regarding the Los Angeles Dodgers' Hideo Nomo, designated for assignment at the player's request yesterday. The move either serves as a precursor to a trade or Nomo's release.
Manager Ray Miller already has begun to speak of Key in the past tense. Asked about the initial projection that Key might return by mid-June, Miller allowed, "It's going to be longer, if at all."
But pitching coach Mike Flanagan said he's not considering the possibility of Key's being lost for the season.
"I don't think that at all. That could be a couple weeks. It could come back quickly," he said. "It's day-to-day. He's got to do some cuff weights and get his strength back first, then we'll think about throwing. It'll probably happen fast. Once he gets to a pound or 2 pounds, it'll probably jump to 3 quick and we'll be ready to go. I'm not counting him out."
Key indicated yesterday that he will at least temporarily shut down his exercise program. He is unable to lift a 3-pound weight over his shoulder. Sunday's workout on a rotator cuff machine did not involve any weights.
"I wasn't even using weights. I was just using the weight of my arm and it hurts from that. It's kind of hard to believe, but it sheds a lot of light on what we're going through right now."
Asked for his projection, Key could offer little. "As long as my arm hurts, I'm not going to do anything. I don't have a crystal ball. I don't have any answers," he said. "I tried yesterday and my arm hurts today, so I didn't do anything today."
Key, 37, a pending free agent, has indicated that he will retire rather than undergo a fifth operation on his well-worn left shoulder. The most recent was a repair to his left rotator cuff in July 1995. Last year he pitched 212 1/3 innings, his most since 1993, and went 16-10. Before being placed on the disabled list May 24, he surrendered nine runs in 5 2/3 innings against the New York Yankees on May 20.
Key returned early from a West Coast trip to be examined by team orthopedic physician Michael Jacobs. An arthrogram was performed and Nerio Rodriguez, since put on the disabled list himself, was promoted from Rochester.
The Orioles inquired about Nomo last week, but received little encouragement from Dodgers officials. Another call was made last night.
Nomo, 29, was rumored last week to be involved in a trade for Mariners ace Randy Johnson. However, Dodgers general manager Fred Claire adamantly denied the report and later met with Nomo. The 1995 NL Rookie of the Year was reportedly embittered by the report, apparently leading to his request for a trade.
Questions also surround Nomo's soundness. He underwent elbow surgery last October and has foundered since spring training. At 2-7 with a 5.05 ERA, Nomo is winless in his past six starts.
The Dodgers also owe the Japanese right-hander $2.7 million this season, the final year of a four-year deal, but Nomo is arbitration-eligible in 1999 and 2000, enhancing his marketability if healthy.
Nomo said little at a news conference yesterday. But, through an interpreter, he said it was true he "definitely needed a change of scenery, a change of environment."
"I'm truly grateful for everything the Dodgers did provide me, with an opportunity to fulfill a dream," he said.
Major-league statistics for Hideo Nomo, who was designated for assignment by the Dodgers and has gone downhill each year since his Rookie of the Year debut:
Yr ... Tm. .... W-L .... ERA .. IP .... H ..... SO
'95 .. L.A. .. 13-6 ... 2.54 .. 191 1/3 .. 124 .. 236
'96 .. L.A. .. 16-11 .. 3.19 .. 228 1/3 .. 180 .. 234
'97 .. L.A. .. 14-12 .. 4.25 .. 207 1/3 .. 193 .. 233
'98 .. L.A. ... 2-7 ... 5.05 ... 67 2/3 57 ... 73
Tot. ......... 45-36 .. 3.51 .. 694 2/3 .. 554 .. 776
Pub Date: 6/02/98