Already trying to survive the season's opening weeks without their No. 2 starter, the Orioles now are confronted with the probable loss of their closer.
The club is expected to place right-hander Mike Timlin on the disabled list today with a torn abdominal muscle on the left side. The move, which could come after he visits another doctor this morning, would be retroactive to April 2.
Timlin had a magnetic resonance imaging done yesterday that revealed a five-centimeter tear. He has no idea how the injury occurred.
"I didn't feel a tear or a pop or a burn or anything. I had a small pain in the muscle, like a nagging thing. I just chalked it up to spring training," he said.
The problem began to surface on March 20, and Timlin was shut down for four days just before the Orioles headed north. He threw a scoreless inning in Saturday's final exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tenn., lowering his ERA to 0.75 in 12 innings, but the discomfort wouldn't subside. At that time, he described it as "a tight feeling."
Manager Mike Hargrove attempted to buy Timlin another day by not warming him up in the eighth inning of Wednesday's game after the Orioles had gone ahead by two runs to create a save situation. Hargrove instead went with Mike Trombley, who signed as a free agent to serve in a setup role. The Orioles tacked on two more runs that inning, costing Trombley the save as he retired the side in the ninth.
"It's one of those things where he probably could pitch, but to be on the safe side this early in the season we'd go ahead and DL him," Hargrove said, adding that Timlin was available last night.
"The whole crux of the matter is, do you not use him for four or five days, then run him out there when you think he's OK and all of a sudden he pops it? All of a sudden he's out for 24 days instead of just 15."
Said Timlin: "I'd rather heal it up now when we have full strength in the pitching department. I'm just going to take total time off."
Trombley would assume the closer's duties in Timlin's absence. He inherited that job with the Minnesota Twins last season and converted 24 of 30 opportunities.
Hargrove said it also wasn't "out of the realm of possibility" that left-hander B. J. Ryan could close some games. Ryan picked up his second major-league win on Wednesday by striking out the only batter he faced, Kenny Lofton, to end the eighth and strand a runner. But he also had miserable numbers this spring when pitching the ninth.
Hargrove said he would prefer that a long reliever be brought up from the minors to take Timlin's place on the roster. Only three of the pitchers at Triple-A Rochester are on the 40-man roster: starters Jason Johnson and Matt Riley and reliever Gabe Molina. Johnson lost his spot in the Orioles' rotation after allowing 52 base runners in 22 spring innings. Riley lost points with the organization after a series of transgressions that included an arrest outside a Fort Lauderdale nightclub.
Molina, who appeared in 20 games with the Orioles last season, would appear the most obvious choice despite posting a 10.38 ERA in 8 2/3 spring innings. He's been replaced as Rochester's closer by Ryan Kohlmeier, who saved 23 games at Double-A Bowie last summer.
Spring training numbers aren't the foundation that Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields intends to build his season upon, no matter how sturdy they were in Florida.
"Health is the foundation," he said.
So far, there are no signs of cracks.
Tormented by a bevy of health issues last season, DeShields just wants to stay on the field and let nature take its course. He won't look beyond that simple formula. How can he, after missing games last season because of a fractured thumb, back stiffness and a strained right hamstring? And after appearing in only 96 games, his lowest total of any full season in the majors, and ultimately needing surgery on Sept. 22 to relieve an entrapped nerve in his right thigh?
"I just want to stay healthy and help the team win games," he said before going 0-for-3 with a walk and a run last night. "No numbers, no statistical goals. I've always been that way."
Even when batting .318 with three homers and a club-leading 15 RBIs, which DeShields did in Fort Lauderdale. Even when reaching base four times, which he did in the season's first two games.
Even when prodded to brag a little.
"A guy can have big numbers and not win," he said. "It's what you do day to day. I just want to go out there and help the team win. And I feel like if I can stay healthy, I can do that."
Belying his slender build, DeShields muscled up at the plate in spring training. Once, he cleared the bleachers in right field. Another time, he broke into a home run trot almost the instant he made contact, knowing there was no way the ball was staying in play. But those games, those moments, don't hold a lot of meaning to DeShields. Not when they took place in March.
"They don't count," he said. "They do, in a way, but then they don't."
It makes sense to DeShields, just like the formula. Stay in the lineup and good things will happen.
So far, it's been an exact science.
Mets claim Dykhoff
Left-hander Radhames Dyk- hoff, who became the fourth Aruban pitcher to reach the majors, was claimed on waivers yesterday by the New York Mets. The move opens a spot on the Orioles' 40-man roster for fifth starter Jose Mercedes, who pitches on Sunday.
Dykhoff was summoned from Double-A Bowie in 1998 and pitched in one game for the Orioles. He spent last season at Rochester, going 2-0 with a 3.94 ERA in 47 games. He then was used as a starter in winter ball for the first time in his career.
The Orioles used him in relief five times this spring, when he allowed seven runs -- including three homers -- in five innings.