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Conine's ailment proves to be 'tricky,' keeps him on bench

The Orioles aren't optimistic that first baseman Jeff Conine will be available for their four-game series against the New York Yankees that began last night, leaving them especially vulnerable against left-handed pitching.

Conine was found to have bursitis at the base of his right biceps during Monday's examination by team physician Dr. Charles Silberstein. The 72-hour rest period ends today, and Conine doesn't appear close to returning.

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"I guess bursitis can be tricky," he said of the inflammatory ailment. "It can be three days; it can be a little longer."

Conine is receiving heat, ice and electronic stimulation and taking anti-inflammatory drugs. He has missed six consecutive games, and didn't accompany the team to Tampa Bay for the series that concluded Wednesday.

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"It's not as improved as we hoped it would be," manager Mike Hargrove said. "I don't anticipate him being ready in the next two or three days."

The pain surfaced about two weeks ago and gradually became worse until it began affecting Conine's swing. He went 1-for-9 in Friday's doubleheader in Boston and sat out the next two games before returning to Baltimore.

"By that time it was pretty bad," he said. "There might have been one incident where I tweaked it somehow that started the whole process, but I don't really remember anything. From there, it just kind of gets out of control, and I've got to get it back in control and get rid of it.

"It's not an area you can inject with cortisone. There are major arteries in there and other ligaments and tendons. You just have to wait it out."

In Conine's absence, the Orioles started Jose Leon at first base against left-hander Andy Pettitte. B.J. Surhoff most likely will start tonight against Roger Clemens, but the Orioles will be in a bind again tomorrow while facing left-hander Sterling Hitchcock.

With David Segui and Melvin Mora on the disabled list, the Orioles are scrambling for right-handed hitters to use at first base and designated hitter.

And they clearly miss Conine's presence in the middle of the lineup.

"He's the glue that holds it all together," Hargrove said.

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"It kills me," Conine said. "We don't really have another true first baseman with me and David hurt, so it stinks. I didn't want to come out, but it just got to the point where I couldn't play like that anymore."

Going, going, gone?

With Monday's open date and Rick Helling struggling, Hargrove could adjust his rotation by skipping a starter or sending one to the bullpen.

He wasn't giving any hints yesterday, especially concerning Helling, who has allowed 10 homers in his past three starts.

"I don't even want to talk about that," he said.

Dellucci returns

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David Dellucci experienced a series of flashbacks, all of them friendly, as he returned to Camden Yards yesterday for the first time in six years.

It didn't matter if he peered through the window of a cab or walked through the stadium entrance. It didn't matter if he glanced in the direction of the home clubhouse or viewed the field from the visitors' dugout.

It just felt like home.

Dellucci hadn't been to Baltimore since the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him off the Orioles' roster during the second round of the 1997 expansion draft. They traded him to the Yankees on July 29 for disgruntled outfielder Raul Mondesi.

"I saw the main parking lot over there and the first thing I thought of was the first day I signed my big league contract here when I was called up from Double-A," said Dellucci, who started in right field last night and had an RBI double. "Although it was six years ago, it seems like yesterday."

Dellucci appeared in 17 games with the Orioles in 1997, skipping Triple-A and quickly becoming a fan favorite for his diving catches. He was surprised to be exposed in the draft.

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"I thought I was going to be a Baltimore Oriole for a very long time. ... I was disappointed very much," he said.

"They say you always remember your first. That counts in baseball, too."

Around the horn

Jerry Hairston, on the disabled list with a broken foot, is expected to rejoin the team today after rehabbing in Arizona. It's uncertain when the Orioles will activate him. ... Mora visited another hand specialist before the game and said he's "pretty close" to returning. He hasn't batted since July 27 because of a bruise that prevents him from gripping a bat.


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