Patience on shoulders of injured O's


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - With his surgically repaired left shoulder keeping him off the field indefinitely, Chris Richard remains a no-show at the Orioles' spring training camp. His locker, once grouped with other position players, sits at the end of the pitchers' row near the back wall. It's impossible to be any farther removed from the club without having to dress outside.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations, said Richard will be evaluated again by the medical staff, with the possibility that he'll report by the third week of March.

Richard might not play until the All-Star break after having surgery to reattach the capsule and clean some fraying in the rotator cuff. An earlier return would put him at designated hitter, with club officials worrying about Richard reinjuring the shoulder with a headfirst dive.

"You don't want to mess him up," Thrift said. "We've got to slow down these guys on the disabled list."

That includes pitcher Mark Nussbeck, who missed last season after having shoulder surgery. Acquired along with Richard in a July 2000 trade with St. Louis, Nuss- beck had been pain-free during throwing sessions at the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., and the early camp here. But soreness in the shoulder caused the Orioles to shut him down earlier this week, though Thrift said it probably would last only a few days.

"He was throwing great, using his curveball and everything," Thrift said. "I told him to slow down. He said, 'But I want to pitch in the big leagues,' and I said, 'I understand that, but slow down.' But he had been doing fine."

Pitcher Luis Rivera, who had surgery last March to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, remains on a regulated throwing program because of tendinitis. Thrift said the problem occurred because Rivera began throwing every day after leaving a rehab camp in January.

Rivera also disturbed club officials the previous year by injuring his shoulder while lifting weights in Mexico.

"He's 2-for-2," Thrift said.

Baby Birds

Reliever Buddy Groom should return to the club no later than tomorrow after flying home to Texas on Thursday for the birth of his fifth child.

Groom and his wife, Angela, were expecting their second daughter. Doctors planned to induce labor rather than allow her to go full term.

The club's most publicized father, Melvin Mora, said his quintuplets - born in late July - left Johns Hopkins Hospital about four months ago. Mora and his wife, Gisel, have purchased a home in Bel Air.

The lightest baby, Genesis, weighs 12 pounds. "She's longer than the others, though," Mora said. "She's long and skinny."

Clark back from Mexico

As injuries hit the club at every turn last year, the Orioles scrambled to find suitable replacements in the farm system, only to be burned by its lack of depth. Young players were rushed to the majors, a solution they don't want to revisit this season.

That's why Thrift was busiest this winter stockpiling minor-league free agents. That's why Howie Clark is back in the organization.

Clark, 28, played in Mexico last summer after nine seasons with the Orioles' affiliates. Talk about bad timing. Never able to reach the majors, he almost certainly would have gotten the call last season.

"It's so hard to say," he said. "You never know. If I had gone back, maybe I would have been hitting .220 and nothing would have happened. Baseball works in crazy ways.

"I never, ever felt that I've been passed by. When you play the game long enough, you realize that they bring up certain people. I never felt that I had such a standout season that I deserved a call-up."

The Orioles re-signed him during the winter, in part because of their familiarity with him, in part because of a versatility that would appeal to any organization. Clark has played every position except shortstop, even coming in to pitch in the late innings of a blowout. He mostly was used in right field last year, though he also played center field, second base and first.

"I enjoyed my time in Mexico. It was great for me," said Clark, who broke his wrist in 2000 and didn't play after July 6. "I think it was good for the Orioles to see that I played every day and proved that I was healthy. I think that's why they weren't skeptical about signing me back.

"The one thing that I realized, though, was there's not a lot of exposure down there. There aren't too many scouts on an everyday basis. And my goal was to play in the big leagues, regardless of when or where. I knew the Orioles knew me best and we talked after the season and got it done early."

Much earlier than his deal in Mexico the previous winter. "I ended up waiting too long," he said. "It was scary not having a job going into January, which is why I went to Mexico."

Around the horn

The first of three intrasquad games will take place Monday and last 4 1/2 innings. ... Minor-league infielders Ed Rogers and Eddy Garabito remain in Mexico because of visa problems.

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