Orioles' rotation takes hit; Kamieniecki won't be ready for 1st April turn

THE BALTIMORE SUN

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ray Miller glared at the pitching chart taped to his office wall and grimaced. For the first time this spring he could see shades of 1998.

Initially diagnosed as little more than an inconvenience, the strained hamstring that prevented No. 4 starter Scott Kamieniecki from making a Saturday start may also prevent him from being in the Orioles' season-opening rotation.

Kamieniecki cut short a side session Monday after only three pitches because of continued tightness in the hamstring. Yesterday, as the Orioles bused to Jupiter for an exhibition against the Montreal Expos, Kamieniecki insisted "there's no way" he will be ready to make his first scheduled start of the season April 9 because of the extended down time.

"This is going to push me back," Kamieniecki admitted. "I don't see how I'm going to be able to make up for lost time before the season."

Miller said team medical reports classify the injury as slight. Indeed, Miller had expected Kamieniecki would be ready to pitch later this week. Instead, the manager will now have to make the second adjustment to his rotation within the last six days.

"We'll see what happens in the next four or five days," said Miller. "If it hasn't improved, we'll have to look at other options."

The Orioles may now consider having Kamieniecki start the season on the disabled list. They can wait until camp breaks before putting him on the DL retroactive to March 25.

Miller could buy time by moving projected No. 5 starter Sidney Ponson into Kamieniecki's April 9 start. Kamieniecki could then move into an April 11 start against the Toronto Blue Jays -- one day after he would be eligible to leave the disabled list. Because he won't require a fifth starting pitcher for the season's first week, Miller actually could replace Kamieniecki with a 14th position player.

Should Kamieniecki not be ready by then, Miller would likely employ one of two nonroster pitchers, Doug Linton or David Evans, who have shown promise this spring. Linton pitched three shutout innings as an emergency replacement for Kamieniecki on Saturday while Evans, who has never appeared in a major-league game, has yet to stumble all camp.

"Who knows?" said Miller. "Maybe we'll find something better than what we already have."

Linton, 34, has been claimed off waivers and signed three times as a minor-league free agent while compiling a 16-16 major-league record to go with a career 5.84 ERA. Evans, 31, signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles last August after receiving his release from Pittsburgh, his fourth team. At Double-A Bowie, he went 1-1 with a 1.96 ERA in 14 games.

Miller exhausted his patience with the club's numerous pitching injuries last season. At one point he maneuvered without three starters -- Kamieniecki, Jimmy Key and Mike Mussina -- as the season crumbled around him.

Kamieniecki eventually underwent season-ending disk fusion surgery on his neck last September but impressed Miller and his coaches with a precocious rehabilitation entering camp. In two starts, Kamieniecki pitched six scoreless innings, striking out four against four walks. More impressive than his statistics was his recovery of movement stolen from him last summer.

"I've gotten this far. It doesn't make a lot of sense to go out there now and pop [the hamstring]," Kamieniecki said. "I don't know how long it will be. I don't know."

With only 10 exhibition games remaining, opportunities for Kamieniecki to build innings are dwindling. Miller hoped all of his starters would have merited a 100-pitch count entering the season. Kamieniecki has not yet passed 50.

Is this considered a setback? "Yeah, for me it is," Miller said. "It doesn't mean he's done or he's not going to be able to pitch. It means he's going to miss two times out, the way it looks to me. I'm not going to count on anything until they come to me and tell me he's ready to pitch. That's what I'm going to do all year long."

Kamieniecki initially suffered the pull while running sprints last Friday. He attempted to jog last Saturday morning but stopped when he felt a tug.

General manager Frank Wren meanwhile continues a quixotic five-month search for an additional starting pitcher. The Orioles have expressed interest in the Kansas City Royals' Kevin Appier and may also join bidding for the Houston Astros' Sean Bergman. However, a lack of depth on the Orioles' major-league roster means any deal would be predicated upon prospects.

Wren appeared to downplay the situation's urgency, insisting the possibility of putting Kamieniecki on the DL is not a "prominent" possibility right now. "At this point, [the injury] is just kind of a hindrance in his spring training work more than anything."

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 3/24/99

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