Rotation can't throw off injury bug Only Erickson escapes O's spreading epidemic


TORONTO -- Forget side sessions, long toss and group study sessions. After yesterday the Orioles need to consider quarantine for their starting rotation.

With yesterday's possible loss of Doug Drabek to a strained muscle in his upper right chest, the Orioles should lessen their focus on staff ERA and consider calling the Centers for Disease Control. Whatever is being passed from Mike Mussina to Scott Kamieniecki to Jimmy Key and now to Drabek is dousing veteran team's optimism.

"As a manager," Ray Miller said following an injury-related 9-8 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, "you're kind of strapped."

Drabek, the most veteran member of a veteran rotation, has pitched in New York, Pittsburgh, Houston and Chicago. But even as staff graybeard he has no precedent to draw upon.

"In Pittsburgh there were a couple years where we had [the injury bug], but it wasn't right away with so many guys. It was one here and one there," remembered Drabek, in his 13th major-league season. "The thing is, [Mussina's] injuries have been more weird: the wart and the line drive. Kamieniecki going down didn't come at a good time. When it's like this it's tough getting the consistency without having the same guys out there time after time."

The Orioles' vaunted rotation hasn't been intact since mid-May, when it enjoyed only a brief togetherness.

Since, Mussina has been struck above the right eye, Key has experienced an inflamed left rotator cuff and Kamieniecki is suffering from supposedly an irritated nerve near his neck. Only staff terminator Scott Erickson, who has never been on the disabled list in nine major-league seasons, has remained immune to the rash.

Drabek tried to pitch through the problem to save his bullpen. Without a better option, Miller consented. He needed to watch only 42 pitches before realizing the attempt was counterproductive.

"I wasn't able to get the extension so I tried just to get my arm on top and make quality pitches without throwing 100 percent," he said.

Effort did not translate into production. He left after two-plus innings and eventually was charged with five earned runs. Twice the Orioles sliced a six-run deficit to one run, but they never absolved Drabek of the loss.

Drabek sounded doubtful about making his next scheduled start. He will be examined further today and again when the team returns home tomorrow.

"It's not something you can pitch with every fifth day. Maybe a couple days rest and some treatment will help it, but if I can't extend, that's defeating the whole purpose," he said.

Miller's options and his patience are growing slim. He may have to return swingman Doug Johns to the rotation.

Nerio Rodriguez remains on the DL after two major-league starts.

Sparkplug Richie Lewis tried, failed, was designated for assignment, and can again be found at a nearby Triple-A stadium.

Today the Orioles turn to journeyman right-hander Pete Smith in his first American League start. His acquisition last Tuesday appeared to give Miller wiggle room. In hindsight, it now appears a life preserver.

Smith made eight starts in 10 appearances for the San Diego Padres before the trade. Should Drabek be headed for the disabled list, receiving six-inning starts from Smith becomes a necessity.

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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