In good standing, Williams sits


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For the first time in his 15-year career, Todd Williams entered an offseason knowing he would have a guaranteed contract for the next season.

After all those nights saving games in the minors, after eight organizations gave up on the 54th-round pick, he had found a home with the Orioles, agreeing this winter to avoid arbitration and sign a $775,000 deal.

Nothing has ever come easily for the 35-year-old right-hander, though. So, naturally, his virtually guaranteed bullpen job was a bright spot in an anxious offseason.

He was charged with driving under the influence Nov. 16 after a car accident near his suburban Tampa home. Although his field Breathalyzer was .00, he failed a field sobriety test.

It took until the week before spring training for the charges to be dropped and the case to be closed. A winter of worrying behind him, baseball was his focus.

Then, after two days of throwing here, he felt a pinch in his right shoulder. He's now out for probably at least two weeks with muscle weakness and inflammation.

Just another obstacle for the Crash Davis of relievers, the active minor league saves leader.

"I've ran into a lot of roadblocks here and there. A lot of people would say I had it stuck to me, but I don't believe in that," Williams said. "Every time something didn't go right, there was a reason for it, good or bad."

Williams, who had a 3.30 ERA and led the club with 72 appearances in 2005, takes pride in his durability. Being sidelined while others are throwing is tough for him.

"It's the worst," Williams said. "Having an injury is the worst."

Using a mound he inserted in his backyard, Williams said he probably threw too much too early this offseason, causing soreness in his right shoulder. He then threw two consecutive days when he came to camp, instead of resting after the first.

Now he is using light dumbbells instead of strength bands to isolate the muscles in his shoulder. Once the strength returns, he'll throw again, expecting to pitch in March.

"Some guys just have bad luck, but we don't consider this that bad yet," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We're strengthening his arm so that this won't happen again. ... Now if it becomes more serious than that, then we have a problem."

The Orioles could have had a public relations problem if Williams - the Orioles' third pitcher in nine months to be charged with DUI - had been convicted of the crime. But the club indicated it wasn't too concerned about Williams' fate.

"The initial reports we had were good in that this would be cleared up," said club executive vice president Mike Flanagan. "There were other circumstances involved with it. ... There was a high level of confidence that this would go away."

Williams was driving home from a weekly card game last November when he crashed into another vehicle, injuring his ankle and eye. Having had 1 1/2 drinks in a five-hour period, he gladly consented to a field sobriety test. Then he failed to walk a straight line.

"My eye was bulging out. My ankle was kind of blown up and obviously I was rattled. I had just gotten in a major accident," he said.

He was confident his urine test - like the Breathalyzer - would come back negative and he would be cleared. Still, the publicity and anxiety wore on him.

"I knew for a fact there [were] no problems, but you still had the stress of it not being over," he said. "And then the other thing is your name is out there, you got something bad attached to your name, even the fact that it all got thrown out, it wasn't even a case, it's still there."

Williams felt like he let his family and fans down, even though he wasn't guilty of anything, So he was excited to get a fresh start at training camp last week and to work with new pitching coach Leo Mazzone. It was short-lived.

"I am waiting to work with Leo more than anything. I have barely had a conversation with him," Williams said. "So once this thing gets over, I am really looking forward to working with him and see what he can help me out on."

Typical setback for Williams, a guy who has come so close in past training camps only to be cut in the end. This time, he had a job secured. Now he must wait to pitch.

"I am not going to feel sorry for myself," Williams said, "because I know a lot more people out there that have worked hard for a long time and never got a legitimate chance."

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