Strained side muscle not so unusual after all

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles made baseball history last month when they allowed 30 runs in a game, a feat so uncommon that team officials kept reaching for the nearest record book.

The last thing they need is to also infiltrate the medical books.

If there's a record for most strained oblique muscles in a single season - and none has been found thus far - the Orioles must hold it.

They've lost their starting catcher and top two starting pitchers to the injury, which brings severe discomfort and restricted movement in the rib cage and abdominal areas. Their backup catcher was shut down briefly in spring training because of it. So was a minor league outfielder who had a chance to make the club, lost substantial playing time and never got to Baltimore.

Of the victims, Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie are missed the most.

Bedard was a Cy Young Award candidate who led the majors in strikeouts before making his final start Aug. 26. He packed up his belongings Thursday, removed the nameplate from his locker and returned to his Ontario home. His season is over.

Guthrie intends to make a start or two before October hits, but he knows the odds are against him. Nobody comes back quickly from this injury. Just ask catcher Ramon Hernandez, who was listed as day-to-day toward the end of spring training and wound up on the disabled list before Opening Day.

"I don't think it's anything that anybody's doing, other than it's basically the luck of the draw," pitching coach Leo Mazzone said.

"To see your No. 1 starter and your No. 2 starter go down with side pulls ... this thing has snowballed so much," he said. "But I don't think it's anything one person's doing. Sometimes things like that just happen that you can't prevent. It's the only way I look at it."

Richie Bancells has been the Orioles' head trainer for 20 seasons and part of the medical staff for 24. He said he has treated this type of injury every year for many years, destroying the myth that it first surfaced in 2007 in a run-down stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Bancells also wonders why, with all the media attention given to the oblique, nobody is writing about the absence of groin and hamstring injuries at Camden Yards.

One trend at a time.

If the oblique strain were related to poor fitness, it could be prevented more easily. When it's baseball-related, which is the case with Bedard and Guthrie, there isn't much the Orioles can do.

"I heard a television analyst say that one of our guys strained his oblique because he's out of shape," Bancells said. "A minute later, he said another guy on the team had the same injury because he worked out too much. Well, which is it?"

Outfielder Jay Payton's oblique hasn't bothered him since he was in the minors, but he said the injury is "pretty common." And he would know, having played for six organizations.

"Some years, it seems like there are different things that guys go through," he said. "Before, guys were blowing out hamstrings. Now it seems like guys are blowing out their obliques. It's one of those things. Every year, it happens. But sometimes, it happens in bunches and it kind of gets magnified."

The Orioles are unique in another sense.

"You usually see more hitters get it than pitchers," Payton said, "so that's the unusual part."

Backup catcher Paul Bako dealt with it briefly before the Orioles broke camp, but he has nothing on Hernandez, who has felt the strain on both sides. He could write his own chapter in the medical books.

"Maybe it's because those muscles are weak or tired," he said. "I played winter ball. The more you play and the older you're getting, I guess you get that injury. I really don't know where it's coming from."

Maybe he should forget about writing that chapter.

"You don't expect it to happen to you," he said. "It can happen from one bad swing, I guess. It's the first time it happened to me. The next thing you know, it's like everybody's getting it. It's like contagious."

It spread to the minors, where outfield prospect Nolan Reimold twice went on the disabled list at Double-A Bowie, and last year's top draft pick, third baseman Billy Rowell, had to stay back at extended spring training before healing enough to join Single-A Delmarva.

The Orioles don't own the rights to the injury, even if it seems that way. Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez can't play because of it, and the Atlanta Braves lost Chipper Jones, who has been treated for it in the past.

Pitchers Steve Avery and Tom Glavine had it while Mazzone was the pitching coach in Atlanta, but what has transpired in Baltimore is a first for him.

"It's uncanny that your No. 1 and No. 2 starters would go down darned near 10 days apart," he said. "It's unfortunate, but I don't think it's anything you can pinpoint that to. I just think it's Mother Nature.

"Maybe it's getting close to Halloween. I think Halloween's come early here for Bedard and Guthrie."

That would explain the orange and black uniforms.

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