Starters' ailments thorn in O's side

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles yesterday officially shut down pitching ace Erik Bedard for the rest of the season, ending his breakout campaign and sending a patchwork starting rotation into more flux.

Bedard was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a strained right oblique muscle as the club opened a roster spot for veteran right-hander Victor Zambrano, who was acquired yesterday from the Pittsburgh Pirates for cash considerations and then had his contract purchased by the Orioles from Triple-A Norfolk.

Zambrano, who went 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Indianapolis after signing a minor league contract with Pittsburgh on Aug. 10, will make his Orioles debut in the bullpen, but manager Dave Trembley expects him at some point to join a rotation that includes Jon Leicester and Victor Santos.

That could happen sooner rather than later with Jeremy Guthrie leaving yesterday's game in the sixth inning with a strained left oblique. Both Guthrie and Trembley used the word "miracle" when asked whether the rookie right-hander will pitch again this season.

As it is, four of the five members of the projected Opening Day rotation - Adam Loewen, Jaret Wright, Kris Benson and now Bedard - are out with season-ending injuries, and Steve Trachsel, who was signed to take Benson's spot in the rotation, was traded late last month to the Chicago Cubs.

Rookie Garrett Olson remains sidelined with a strained left forearm and won't throw again until later this week, and Trembley said yesterday that struggling rookie Radhames Liz will pitch out of the bullpen for the time being because "he needs to get some success."

Bedard had plenty this season, going 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and establishing himself as one of the most dominating pitchers in the American League. His 221 strikeouts set a club record and still lead the major leagues. Trembley said it didn't make sense to take any chances with Bedard, whose last outing was Aug. 26, two weeks from yesterday.

"He had a great season. Unfortunately, it ends the way it does, but we needed a roster spot. We needed to make room to get Zambrano here," Trembley said. "The way we saw it was the earliest he was going to be able to pitch would've been like the 27th of this month. It would've been probably a three-inning start at best. And that would've been if everything fell according to plan."

Bedard, who lost to the Minnesota Twins in his last start, his first defeat in 14 outings, wasn't available to reporters yesterday as he was getting treatment on his side. The injury is not expected to affect his preparation for next season.

The 28-year-old left-hander said late last week that he wasn't frustrated, even though the injury takes him out of the running for the AL Cy Young Award, for which he was once a top candidate, and will likely cost him the league strikeout crown.

"It would've been great for him," Trembley said. "It would've been great for our team. ... But there will be another time for him, I'm sure. I think he's still going to get better."

Though the Orioles have feared for a while that Bedard's season might be done, they hadn't counted on losing Guthrie, who had, for all intents and purposes, assumed the No. 1 role with Bedard sidelined.

Today's day off will buy Trembley at least a day, but no help appears to be on its way, unless you count Zambrano, a seven-year veteran who was released this season by the Toronto Blue Jays after going 0-2 with a 10.97 ERA in eight games, including two starts.

Zambrano is 45-43 with a 4.55 ERA in 182 career games. He had a 35-27 record in parts of four seasons with the Devil Rays but saw his career go into a tailspin after being traded to the New York Mets in 2004 in a deal that sent prized left-hander Scott Kazmir to Tampa Bay.

"Zambrano is here because he's got experience," Trembley said. "We've lost Bedard. ... Olson's out; we've seen Liz struggle."

In the three-game series with the first-place Los Angeles Angels that begins tomorrow night, the Orioles will start Santos, Daniel Cabrera and Jon Leicester, and that could change if Cabrera is suspended by Major League Baseball.

Cabrera, 9-15, was ejected for his actions when the benches cleared after he threw a fastball behind the head of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia on Friday night. Every ejection is reviewed by the league.

Santos was 1-4 with a 5.14 ERA in 32 relief appearances for the Cincinnati Reds this season when his contract was purchased last week by the Orioles. He has not made a major league start in more than a year, but he'll become the ninth Orioles starter since Aug. 26. Leicester went five innings to beat the Red Sox on Saturday night in only his second major league start and his first since May 9, 2005.

Guthrie's injury could force Trembley to thrust Kurt Birkins, who struggled in his only start this season, or Brian Burres or Rob Bell into the rotation. Trembley said prospects Hayden Penn and Jim Johnson, who both will pitch in the Arizona Fall League, are pretty much shut down until then, so they aren't under consideration.

"My understanding from player development was that Hayden Penn wasn't ready to come here," Trembley said.

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