FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles have shut down pitcher Troy Patton and scheduled a magnetic resonance imaging on his ailing left shoulder, perhaps a precursor to surgery that likely would cause him to miss the 2008 season and severely alter the course of a professional career that holds considerable promise.
Patton, 22, was regarded as the jewel of the trade that sent shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros, but he didn't throw for four months before reporting to camp while dealing with tightness in his shoulder. His first MRI was inconclusive, but Patton is expected to have dye injected into the shoulder today or tomorrow - a procedure called an arthrogram - that could reveal a tear in his labrum.
The Orioles placed Patton on a throwing program in camp that gradually allowed him to work off a mound. But his session ended yesterday after 10 throws because he couldn't get loose.
"It was uncomfortable enough to where I didn't want to pitch on the mound. It hurt enough to where I didn't want to throw," said Patton, who will be examined at the ballpark today by team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens.
"I'm not going to rush to any conclusions. They'll tell me what I need to do and I'll go from there."
Patton said last month that he likely had a SLAP tear (superior labrum from anterior to posterior), which occurs at the point where the tendon of the biceps inserts on the labrum. The area of the labrum where the tear occurs is susceptible to injury, and slower to heal, because there is limited blood flow.
Patton made two starts among his three appearances with the Astros in September and was viewed as the favorite to win a spot at the back end of the Orioles' rotation. But he quickly fell behind the other competitors and might not face live batters this spring.
"I don't know that I'm shut down for the season or for any amount of time," he said. "I'm not frustrated at all. I've just got to see the doctor, and I'll know more after the MRI or whatever he decides to do."
Manager Dave Trembley said he would consult with team president Andy MacPhail, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and head athletic trainer Richie Bancells after yesterday's game. This is the first time Patton has failed to complete a side session.
"It's safe to say it's a setback," Trembley said.
Brian Burres will start today's exhibition game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and could emerge as the Orioles' fifth starter. Matt Albers, Garrett Olson, Jon Leicester and Hayden Penn also are vying for the job.
"We have Plan A and we have Plan B," Trembley said.
Patton was Plan A, but Trembley said, "I think we may have to move away from that now."
Asked whether Burres is Plan B, Trembley said, "I'm not going to say that."
Huff almost ready
Aubrey Huff hit against live pitching again yesterday and should get into a game this week.
"I hope it's soon," he said, smiling. "I'm getting bored."
Huff, recovering from sports hernia surgery, also ran the bases yesterday, but he still hasn't slid.
"He's probably got a couple more things he's got to do," Trembley said. "But Richie told me that we're very close."
Around the horn
Jay Payton made his first start after contracting bronchitis and reached on an infield hit in the second inning. ... Along with Chris Ray, injured reliever Fernando Cabrera reported to minor league camp in Sarasota after yesterday's workout. ... Tike Redman, who has been unavailable because of flu-like symptoms, expected to make today's trip to Vero Beach.