ANAHEIM, Calif. - Little more than a month after undergoing ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow, Scott Erickson is considered ahead of schedule by the Orioles' medical staff. Erickson has shed the splint placed on the elbow after Aug. 8 "Tommy John surgery" and, after visiting Los Angeles orthopedic Dr. Lewis Yocum Friday, has been given reason to believe he may be able to toss next spring training.
Noticeably lighter and encouraged by his progress, Erickson will accompany the Orioles for the balance of their schedule. He has been cleared to perform all forms of cardiovascular exercise and will soon begin work to strengthen his right forearm, trainer Richie Bancells said yesterday.
The Orioles are especially encourged by the elbow's range of motion.
"I don't know if that necessarily translates into anything as far as throwing a ball goes. What it means is I won't have to spend the rest of this month working on range of motion. That's already accomplished," said Bancells.
"That means we move on sooner to forearm strengthening ... that otherwise would have come a month later."
"It feels good. What else do you want me to say?" said Erickson.
Bancells cautioned that any projections are vague, but said it is possible Erickson could pitch before the end of next season.
Erickson underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery March 3. During the procedure, ligament damage was discovered and he was offered the option of immediate ligament replacement. Erickson declined, attempting to pitch with a condition that caused him severe pain whenever he tried to push for more velocity.
Erickson finished his season 5-8 with a 7.87 ERA in 16 starts - the first time since 1994 he has not won at least 13 games.
Unable to count upon Erickson for most, if not all, of next season, the Orioles must determine how to align a rotation that may also be absent pending free agent Mike Mussina. Possibilities include rookies John Parrish and Jay Spurgeon with Matt Riley hoping to use the upcoming Arizona Fall League to improve his standing.
Mills returns home
Reliever Alan Mills did not accompany the team from Minneapolis to Anaheim in order to have his right shoulder examined by orthopedic Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.
Mills is expected to undergo season-ending arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder, possibly as early as this week, according to Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift.
Mills had complained of weakness in the shoulder in Minnesota but said there was no pain. He faced one hitter Sept. 3, walking him while failing to top 86 mph. Manager Mike Hargrove became convinced of a larger problem and all agreed it was prudent for Mills to be further examined. He had been activated Aug. 30 after being on the disabled list with tendinitis in his elbow. A bone spur was discovered on his shoulder but team officials do not believe it related to his current problem.
Since being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers June 13, Mills was 2-0 with a 6.46 ERA in 23 games.
Friday night rerun
The Orioles fell, 2-1, to the Angels Friday night despite a fifth consecutive quality start by Pat Rapp and Cal Ripken's return to third base for the first time since June 27. The loss began a stretch in which the Orioles play 20 of their final 23 games against playoff contenders.
Rapp (7-11) extended the Orioles' recent run of competent pitching by allowing six hits and two earned runs in six innings. Followed by two innings of shutout relief by B.J. Ryan and Mike Trombley, Rapp helped lower the staff's ERA over the last 20 games to 3.80.
First baseman Chris Richard forced a 1-1 tie with his eighth home run in the fifth inning, a 435-shot to center field as 30 friends and family members looked on. It was the first time Richard's father had seen him play in a major-league game.
The Angels reclaimed the lead on Benji Gil's one-out home run in the sixth inning.
A greybeard within a lineup featuring five players who spent most of the season in the minor leagues, Ripken batted cleanup for the first time since Aug. 17, 1997 and went 0-for-3 before being removed as scheduled after three plate appearancs. He also contributed a diving stop against Tim Salmon in the third inning. Ripken returned to the lineup as designated hitter yesterday.
Around the horn
Albert Belle remained out for a fifth consecutive game and Hargrove could not project his return today. Belle did roam the outfield during pre-game batting practice but has not appeared since his sore right hip was examined in Baltimore on Wednesday. Hargrove used Brady Anderson in right field and returned third baseman Jeff Conine to the cleanup spot. Conine has homered only twice since June 29. ... The Orioles have committed 107 errors, their most since committing 119 in 1988. Entering yesterday's game, only three AL teams had committed more errors. All of those teams - Chicago, Oakland and Anaheim - remain in playoff contention. Only the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the league's top two pitching staffs, have turned fewer double plays than the Orioles. ... Delino DeShields saw a nine-game hitting streak stopped Friday night... Hargrove projected the return of shortstop Melvin Mora (hamstring) and outfielder Luis Matos (shoulder) today.