Ready to pitch in?

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Chris Ray spent the time working out and planning the refurbishing of a 1994 Ford Mustang he bought. Danys Baez stayed in Miami, devoting all his time to his rehabilitation and family. Troy Patton logged countless hours on the Internet, following the progress of current and former teammates, and battling the worst "case of boredom" he has experienced.

All three Orioles, who missed last season after having extensive arm surgeries, were on the practice fields yesterday as pitchers and catchers persevered through their first spring workout. The trio's presence was a pleasing sight for an Orioles staff that has been hampered by injuries, but it also reinforced how much the club is relying on pitchers who suffered setbacks that either cut short their 2008 season or never allowed it to get started.

"It's hard to count on guys like that, it really is," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said after listening to the long list of Orioles pitchers coming off injuries. "It's hard to think that all these guys are going to be available to us because we really don't know."

Ray and Baez, the closer and top setup man, respectively, heading into the 2007 season, are 18 and 16 months removed from ligament-reconstruction (Tommy John) surgery on their right elbows. Patton, a left-handed starter obtained from the Houston Astros in the Miguel Tejada deal, had surgery to repair a torn labrum in March. Reliever Jim Hoey also didn't pitch last season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in May.

Reliever Dennis Sarfate pitched in 57 games for the Orioles last season, but he had season-ending surgery to repair a broken clavicle in September. Matt Albers opted to forgo surgery and rehab the right labrum tear that forced him to miss the final three months of last season.

Jim Johnson and Hayden Penn also experienced season-ending shoulder injuries, and relievers George Sherrill and Jamie Walker spent extensive time in 2008 on the disabled list. Starters Jeremy Guthrie, Rich Hill and Koji Uehara did not, but they have dealt with their share of nagging injuries over the past couple of seasons.

"That's one of the reasons we brought in so many pitchers," manager Dave Trembley said. "We wanted to cover so many possibilities, but to be honest with you, I'm not concerned with anybody right now coming off an injury because of the reports that I've gotten from [head athletic trainer] Richie Bancells. He's told me over and over again there are no restrictions."

Despite all the health question marks and the relative uncertainty the injuries have created with the staff, only prospect Chorye Spoone (Northeast, CCBC-Catonsville) is not a full participant in camp. Still, many pitchers are exercising caution, including Albers, who threw a bullpen session yesterday.

"I have to be real careful," said Albers, whose injury last season coincided with the Orioles' plummet in the standings. "My shoulder obviously still has a tear. It's one of those things that is still in there, so I have to make sure I take every precaution I can to stay healthy. I felt really good today. Before I came here, I had some days where I didn't feel as good, but I think a lot of guys go through that."

Albers acknowledged that it will always be in the back of his mind that he still might need surgery this year. The Orioles, believing a set pitching schedule would be beneficial to Albers' shoulder, would prefer to use the right-hander in the rotation, but he needs to prove his shoulder will hold up.

Baez, who hasn't been a starter since 2002, also wants to be in the rotation, believing the four days between starts will allow his arm to recover quicker and give him more time to make adjustments.

"It's super good to be here and be back with the team," Baez said. "Not that I wasn't part of the team last year, but I knew I had a lot of things to do in front of me. Now, I can do what everybody is doing, and, for me, that means everything."

Ray, the Orioles' closer for two seasons, said he had been looking forward to yesterday for the past "year and a half." He has thrown 12 to 14 bullpen sessions and is pain-free.

"Right now, I feel like I can throw game speed," Ray said. "I'm not going to go out there and hold myself back, but, at the same token, I'm not going to throw as hard as I can in every bullpen [session]. There's not too much of a point doing that."

Dismissing the question of whether he or Sherrill will be given the closer's job, Ray said he just wants to stay healthy and contribute to a winning team. That will be the goal of so many Orioles pitchers, who want to be on the Opening Day roster, not the disabled list.

"If you do well and stay healthy, you are going to get a chance to pitch," Patton said.

THE BIG HURTS

Several key Orioles pitchers, who are either locks for roster spots or are under consideration if they stay healthy, are coming off significant injuries last season.

Player ... Injury ... Time on DL last year*

Matt Albers Right labrum tear 3 months

Danys Baez Tommy John surgery (right) All season

Jeremy Guthrie Right shoulder impingement 2 weeks

Jim Hoey Right shoulder surgery All season

Jim Johnson Right shoulder impingement 1 month

Troy Patton Left labrum tear All season

Hayden Penn Right shoulder stiffness 2 months

Chris Ray Tommy John surgery (right) All season

Dennis Sarfate Right clavicle fracture All season

George Sherrill Left shoulder inflammation 1 month

Jamie Walker Left elbow inflammation 1 month

*approximate

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