O's stand still, but Erickson moves ahead; Minor-league rehab nears as Orioles rained out second straight day


Another rainout yesterday sent more ripples through the Orioles' rotation, with Mike Mussina and Pat Rapp switching places for the last two games of this brief homestand. But a more significant change is approaching.

Manager Mike Hargrove said he expects No. 2 starter Scott Erickson to be sent on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment sometime during the seven-game road trip that takes the Orioles to Oakland and Chicago beginning Friday.

Erickson threw five simulated innings in the indoor batting cage before Monday's postponement, his longest stretch since having arthroscopic surgery on March 3 to remove bone chips from his right elbow. He continues to use all of his pitches without discomfort or restrictions. The only missing elements are live hitters, which can be found in the minors.

"I could give you [reporters] the exact date, but then I'd have to kill you," Hargrove said.

Originally thought to be gone until early May, Erickson's recovery has been so smooth and rapid that he could rejoin the club by the last week in April. His assignment might last only one game. It's not expected to go beyond two.

Erickson's insertion into the rotation most likely would push right-hander Calvin Maduro to the bullpen, where long relief duties await.

Maduro opened the season as the fourth starter, but a 10.00 ERA in two outings and a tendency to be ambushed the second time through the order has moved former No. 5 starter Jose Mercedes ahead of him.

Mercedes was supposed to pitch tonight against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but successive postponements have bumped him to Saturday in Oakland. Maduro's turn comes the next day, but Hargrove said he's undecided on a starter.

This much is known: Rapp has gone from being scheduled to pitch Monday against Tampa Bay to being held back until tomorrow, which had been an open date for both clubs until yesterday's rain brought a 1: 35 p.m. makeup game. Mussina, whose last start was Thursday in Kan- sas City, has leapfrogged him to avoid working on six days' rest. Rapp is subjected to greater down time because he hasn't pitched since last Wednesday in Kansas City, when he took a shutout into the seventh inning before allowing three runs.

At least Sidney Ponson won't be disrupted. On Friday, he'll be working on normal rest after tossing his first career shutout on Sunday.

Unlike Monday night, when the Orioles waited until about 7: 12 p.m. to call off the game as rain continued to fall, they saved fans from making an unnecessary trip to Camden Yards yesterday by announcing the postponement around 3 p.m.

Asked about having two unexpected days off, Hargrove said, "I think it's neither good nor bad. I would rather play in the warmth and the sun than I would in the drizzling rain and the cold, so I don't really view it as good or bad. We weren't playing real good or real bad, so it's not one of those things where it's a momentum-changer."

With no game to look forward to, closer Mike Timlin threw indoors yesterday as he continued a return from the torn abdominal muscle that forced him on the disabled list April 2. He was activated on Monday along with backup catcher Greg Myers, who had been sidelined by a badly strained left hamstring.

Timlin said he was in a holding pattern because of the weather, but also pronounced himself "healthy and ready to pitch."

"I had two good sessions in Minnesota and I'm throwing today to knock the rust off," he said. "The stomach muscle area is not something to play with.

"[Cleveland pitcher] Steve Karsay had one last year about this time, and it hurts. It hurts getting out of bed, it hurts laying down in bed, sitting down on the toilet. Anything you do -- cough, sneeze -- it's there. You just take your time and get it healed. That's what we did."

Timlin had wanted to build on the momentum from spring training, when he surrendered only one run in 12 innings despite discomfort that wouldn't subside. "You want to go out and continue it, so that's what really bothered me. But I know I can continue it [his success] even with the two-week delay," he said.

Hargrove intends to ease Timlin into the closer's role, if circumstances permit such caution, by using him in non-save situations until deemed ready. It's a plan that brings no objections from Timlin.

"He's the skipper. He knows what's up," Timlin said. "I'm just on the ship here. Either I'm on an oar or I'm steering, but he's really the captain of the ship. If he thinks that's best, that's fine with me.

"Coming back into an extreme pressure situation like closing a game is kind of tough if you don't have an inning or two going."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05 TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Steve Trachsel (1-1, 6.32) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (0-1, 3.80)

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