Pitcher Matt Riley, once regarded as the top prospect in the Orioles' farm system before injuries and assorted controversies frustrated club officials and lowered expectations, will undergo ligament-transplant surgery today in Los Angeles.
The procedure, commonly referred to as "Tommy John surgery," will be performed this morning by Dr. Lewis Yocum.
The announcement came from Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, before last night's game against the Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards. Thrift spoke to Riley twice during the day and also had a conversation with Yocum, who performed the same operation on Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson last month.
"Matt was surprisingly calm about it," Thrift said. "He was not traumatic in any way. He was very uplifted. He was very deliberate in his answers, very positive.
"I called him this afternoon to make sure. I said, 'Now, you haven't changed your mind, have you?' And he said, 'No.' I joked with him that he won't need any anesthetic because he won't be awake anyway. He agreed."
The Orioles have left open the possibility of Erickson returning late next season, perhaps as early as August. But Thrift conceded that Riley, a third-round draft-and-follow pick in 1997, will be shut down until perhaps next fall "if things go well."
Riley hasn't thrown since Game 1 of a Sept. 2 doubleheader in Harrisburg, Pa., when he left the mound in the second inning after unleashing a pitch. He was examined by team orthopedist Dr. Michael Jacobs before an MRI from Yocum last week revealed ligament damage.
"He was seen by Dr. Jacobs, and at that time it appeared it was a muscle strain, but that was done without an MRI," Thrift said.
"I think the way he conducted himself with the examination, the way he accepted the results and the decision to go forward really showed me an awful lot of maturation."
Riley, who lives in Oakley, Calif., was given the option of resting and rehabbing the elbow, but Yocum recommended immediate surgery.
"Dr. Yocum felt that by next spring or sometime next season, he would have the same problem, so he suggested to Matt he have the surgery now so he'd only miss one season. Matt concurred," Thrift said.
"I made sure that's what Matt wanted to do. He was 100 percent for it. In his words, he never felt quite right even though he had no pain."
Riley had no momentum coming out of spring training. He threw only two innings, restricted by stiffness in his shoulder and disciplinary measures that included a fine for showing up late to the ballpark. An arrest outside a Fort Lauderdale nightclub prompted the club to send him to its minor-league complex.
He made two starts at Triple-A Rochester - allowing 11 runs in seven innings - before going on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness. Riley linked the discomfort to pitching the home opener in 35-degree weather.
He was demoted to Double-A Bowie upon being activated, where he appeared in 19 games, going 5-7 with a 6.08 ERA.
"At Bowie, he felt like his velocity was off," Thrift said. "He felt like his command was off but he didn't know what the problem really was."
Doubleheader opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Camden Yards
Game 1: 1:35 p.m., Ch. 54
Game 2: 7:05 p.m., HTS
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)
Game 1 starters: Athletics' Gil Heredia (14-11, 4.14) vs. Orioles' Jay Spurgeon (1-1, 7.00)
Game 2 starters: Athletics' Ariel Prieto (1-1, 4.91) vs. Orioles' Chuck McElroy (1-0, 5.50)