Matt Riley underwent successful ligament-transplant surgery on his left elbow yesterday in Los Angeles. The Orioles' pitching prospect most likely will miss the entire 2001 season but could return to the mound that fall. He's expected to begin the first stages of a rehabilitation program next week in Arizona.
Riley, 21, initially had been found to have a strained muscle in his forearm until a magnetic resonance imaging last week revealed ligament damage. Dr. Lewis Yocum performed the "Tommy John surgery," as he did with pitcher Scott Erickson in August.
"That was a surprise, but you never know," said manager Mike Hargrove. "If that's going to happen to you, 21 is a lot better than having it at 31."
Riley was limited to two starts at Triple-A Rochester this year, allowing 11 runs in seven innings before going on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness. He ended up in Double-A Bowie's bullpen until getting in better shape, with some heavy prodding from Baysox manager Andy Etchebarren. Riley made 14 starts among his 19 appearances at Bowie, going 5-7 with one save, two complete games and a 6.08 ERA.
He was stringing together quality starts before leaving Game 1 of a Sept. 2 doubleheader in Harrisburg, Pa., during the second inning with sharp pain in his arm. Though his results had gotten better, he never resembled the pitcher who went 13-8 with a 3.03 ERA and 189 strikeouts in the minors last season, earning three September starts with the Orioles despite exhibiting signs of fatigue after logging 178 1/3 innings.
"At Bowie, he felt like his velocity was off. He felt like his command was off, but he didn't know what the problem really was," said vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift.
"He had no problems as far as pain was concerned until that last game he pitched."
Rookie left-hander John Parrish will replace Riley in the Arizona Fall League.
Mills on fast track
Reliever Alan Mills stopped by the clubhouse, his first visit since last week's arthroscopic surgery.
Mills had his right shoulder cleaned out by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. The procedure was such a success that Mills already has begun using a range-of-motion cane after initial expectations of his arm being in a sling for six weeks.
He planned on returning to his Florida home, and will attempt to throw once he regains full motion and strength in the arm.
"Hopefully, I'll be down there as soon as possible so I can get started on my rehab. The weather's a little better for my shoulder. It'll stiffen up in cold and wet," he said.
A small tear was found in the back of Mills' rotator cuff, along with a bone spur that had been discovered in August.
"It wasn't major, but I think that's where my problems were coming from," he said. "They didn't have to do too much in there. I feel real good. If I had needed to wait six weeks, I would have been behind, but now I'm ahead of schedule. Hopefully I'll stay that way.
"I've been told it won't be a problem at all and I'll be ready in the spring."
Conine's ankle slow to heal
The day-to-day status of Jeff Conine has reached a week, with the Orioles' utility man still unable to play because of a sore left ankle.
"It's just a slow process," he said. "The way it was explained to me, it's a weight-bearing tendon. Obviously, you use it every day and it's slow getting the inflammation out of it."
Conine was injured Sept. 11 in Anaheim, and left the next day's doubleheader in Texas after one at-bat. He's been receiving treatments since, but said he hasn't tested the ankle. Returning to the lineup won't be possible until he's able to run and make cuts without pain.
"I haven't done anything yet," he said. "I haven't even gone out to do a sprint yet. I wouldn't think they'd plan on playing me until I do that."
Catcher Brook Fordyce entered last night having thrown out three of 37 runners since coming to Baltimore, leaving him 9-for-57 on the season. He accepts much of the blame, but there's plenty to go around.
"We're working to give him a quicker release," Hargrove said, "but a lot of that has to do with the release times of the pitchers, too. I don't care if you're Pudge Rodriguez, if the pitcher's release time home is between 1.35 and 1.45 [seconds], you're going to have a difficult time throwing people out. And that's what's happened with Brook. A lot of those steals have been because the pitcher's been a little slow in his delivery.
"I think Brook can decrease his release time and maintain his accuracy. That will help. I know [bench coach] Jeff Newman and him are working very hard on that, and have been for a while."