His right elbow so sore it had prevented him from throwing for three days after every start, Scott Erickson yesterday returned to the disabled list for the second time this season while the Orioles sidestepped questions about the potentially season-ending severity of his condition.
Erickson, who sought out manager Mike Hargrove to request the move Wednesday night, acknowledged for the first time yesterday that his elbow has caused him lasting, jagged pain for the last month and confirmed that he will soon undergo an examination in Los Angeles by Anaheim Angels team orthopedic physician Lewis Yocum.
While Orioles officials withheld comment, club sources say Erickson's options are limited to either extended rest or undergoing ligament replacement surgery - also known as Tommy John surgery - which would likely cost him the remainder of this and all of next season.
"Anything else" aside from surgery "would be a Band-Aid," said a club source.
The Orioles listed Erickson as sidelined by "elbow inflammation." Hargrove refused to elaborate on the possible source of the inflammation and the club did not allow trainer Richie Bancells or its orthopedic doctor Michael Jacobs to address media.
"I'm going on the DL. We'll see how things go for a while. I'll get some rest and possibly get it looked at," Erickson said. "Obviously, my arm isn't where it should be. I was trying to cut the ball loose and I couldn't like I should be able to."
The Orioles promoted reliever Ryan Kohlmeier from Triple-A Rochester to take Erickson's place on the 25-man roster and have assigned his next start to Jose Mercedes, who was bumped from the rotation earlier this week to make room for left-handed rookie John Parrish.
"The official release says inflammation of the elbow. I think that's accurate," said Hargrove. "He'll be examined by our doctors and a determination made of what it is. Then he'll be on the disabled list."
Whenever Hargrove or pitching coach Sammy Ellis asked Erickson how his arm felt, the pitcher answered, "The same."
The answer was accurate but not enlightening. Erickson had not thrown without discomfort since shortly after returning from the disabled list in early May. After initially struggling to regain the velocity on his trademark heavy sinker, he noticed a steady drop in both velocity and movement. By the end of June, his elbow couldn't bounce back from starts in time for him to throw in the bullpen two days before a start.
"I haven't thrown a bullpen after my last seven starts because it's taken three days for the soreness to go away," said Erickson.
Club officials, including vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift, denied any prior knowledge of Erickson's discomfort despite his telling lack of side work.
Asked whether Erickson's continued pain after an earlier stay on the disabled list suggests a more serious problem, Hargrove said, "I think that's a fair assumption."
Majority owner Peter Angelos yesterday demanded to review Erickson's medical records dating to March 3 arthroscopic surgery to remove fragments from his right elbow.
Not only does Erickson's injury leave a massive hole within an already thin rotation, it represents a potentially huge financial hit for a team that signed him to a five-year, $32 million extension in May 1998. Erickson has consumed huge quantities of innings since coming to the Orioles in a July 1996 trade with the Minnesota Twins and is recognized as one of the game's most dominant ground ball pitchers. His elbow pain, however, has compromised that ability.
"I don't care who you are, you can't pitch down in the zone when you're having elbow pain," Ellis said. "He's going to have to have that taken care of."
During the March procedure, according to a club source, Yocum discovered that a ligament around Erickson's elbow was severely stretched and mentioned the possibility of replacing the ligament with a tendon. Erickson, according to the source, opted for only an arthroscopic procedure and returned to the Orioles' rotation on May 4.
As Erickson has labored, the Orioles have attempted to trade him to the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. Most recently, the Toronto Blue Jays have followed him at the urging of former teammate David Wells. However, scouts have uniformly noticed Erickson's diminished velocity and absent late movement.
"When I try to put some effort behind it, it's impossible, for one. Two, it's pretty painful. It's consistently tender," Erickson said.
Erickson has diligently maintained his weightlifting regimen but noted, "It's one thing to lift and another thing to throw a ball."
Erickson's approach might have been different had he not performed so well despite elbow pain in last season's second half. Throwing through elbow stiffness and forearm discomfort, Erickson reversed a 1-8 start with an 11-4 second half that left him with a 15-12 record and 4.81 ERA. This year, his troubles deepened rather than reverse as his ERA soared to 7.87 through 16 starts.
"I pitched through some pretty good pain for the last two months of the season and this year I thought it was just a matter of throwing through it. But apparently it's not," Erickson said.
Rather than speculate on his future, Erickson repeatedly said he would refrain until receiving another opinion. He'll likely return to Los Angeles in the next two weeks.
O's vs. Indians
Last night: Postponed after 2-hour rain delay with Cleveland up 4-3 in fourth. Orioles today
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1:15 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Indians' Jason Bere (first AL appearance) or Tim Drew (1-0, 10.00) vs. Orioles' Pat Rapp (6-6, 5.67)