FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - No matter how much David Segui's troubled injury past prepared the Orioles for the news, it still sent them reeling yesterday when X-rays revealed he had broken his right thumb.
Segui thought he had merely bruised the thumb Wednesday, when Jay Gibbons hit a one-hop smash off the base of his right hand during batting practice. After viewing the X-rays, the Orioles predicted Segui would miss seven weeks, with the first four of those spent in a cast.
Segui, 36, was more optimistic, refusing to rule out a return by Opening Day.
"I swung the bat [Wednesday] night in the hotel room, so it can't be that long," Segui said. "Obviously, they don't want you to push it, but I don't want to miss any games, especially right off the bat."
Missing games has become Segui's unfortunate trademark since he signed a four-year, $28 million contract with the Orioles. In the first two seasons of that deal, he has played in just 33.4 percent of the team's games - 108 of 323.
Knee and finger injuries limited him to about half a season in 2001, and he missed the final four months last year with a torn tendon in his left hand. Segui returned to spring training feeling strong, and Orioles manager Mike Hargrove slotted him back into the No. 3 spot in the batting order.
In 10 exhibition games, Segui was batting .407.
"I don't know that you're ever really prepared" for this sort of injury, Hargrove said. "You go into each situation hoping it's going to be different."
The Orioles had already been scouring the trade market for a run-producing hitter, and vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan said those efforts would continue with the same intensity.
"I don't know that you can be on any higher alert than we have been," Flanagan said. "We have enough help here to make it work in the meantime. It probably changes the dynamics a little bit, but ... we're comfortable with the way it stands at the moment."
If there seems to be less sense of panic, the major difference for the Orioles is they now have an experienced No. 3 hitter to fill Segui's place: B.J. Surhoff.
Signed to a minor-league deal two days before spring training, Surhoff is hitting .385 this spring. Yesterday, Hargrove used Surhoff as the designated hitter against the Cincinnati Reds, batting him third, and Surhoff drove home the Orioles' first run with a single.
"I hope [Hargrove] turns to me to hit third," Surhoff said. "That's a luxury he has now. He doesn't have to turn to one of the younger guys."
Hargrove was primarily going to use Segui as the DH, with some starts at first base. Jeff Conine will still get most of the starts at first base, and Hargrove said he might use Marty Cordova as the DH on days when Surhoff plays left field. The injury could also mean more playing time for super sub Melvin Mora.
With Surhoff likely assuming an everyday spot in the batting order, the Orioles might need a new left-handed bat off the bench. That could be the opening Jack Cust needs to make the Opening Day roster.
In a strange coincidence, Segui's latest injury came one day after the Orioles traded the left-handed hitting Chris Richard to the Colorado Rockies for Cust. Richard has major-league experience playing first base; Cust hasn't played there since high school and doesn't even have a first baseman's glove.
The Orioles had Gibbons take some ground balls at first base yesterday, and one new scenario has him playing first and Cust playing right field.
No matter how they try to replace Segui, the Orioles know from the past two years it won't be easy.
In games with Segui, the Orioles are 47-61 (.435). Without him, they're 83-132 (.386).
"It's probably the worst thing that can happen to our lineup," Gibbons said. "I feel awful because the guy can hit the ball. He was struggling this spring; I think he was only hitting .700."
Segui arrived at the clubhouse yesterday wearing a removable plastic cast on his right hand. Several players stopped by to console him. This is actually the third time Segui has broken his right thumb, counting trips to the disabled list in 1996 and 1999.
"I don't know what you'd call it, other than a rash of stupid injuries," Segui said. "It's an unavoidable injury. It wasn't because of a lack of conditioning. It makes you scratch your head and think, 'What in the world?' "
David Segui's injuries since rejoining the Orioles in 2001:
Date Injury missed
4/22/01 Strained l. hand 19
7/15/01 Sprained l. knee 21
8/23/01 Sore l. knee 34
5/2/02 Torn l. hand 122
3/12/03 Broken r. thumb -