BRADENTON, FLA. — The Orioles suffered their first freak injury of spring training Saturday when outfielder Michael Bourn was diagnosed with a broken right ring finger suffered while attempting to catch a football after Friday's workout in Sarasota.
Less than one week after signing a minor league deal with the Orioles and before he was able to get into his first Grapefruit League game, Bourn is expected to miss four weeks, manager Buck Showalter said, putting his status for Opening Day in question.
While Showalter didn't rule out the possibility of Bourn being ready for the April 3 season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, he didn't sound overly optimistic.
"If we had to push the envelope, we could if it fell down to that," Showalter said.
Bourn's injury is the latest — and strangest — of the spring in a growing list. In most cases, the club is taking precautionary steps to take advantage of a long offseason while trying to prevent further injuries during the season.
Right-hander Chris Tillman is on a throwing program after receiving a platelet-rich-plasma injection because he felt shoulder stiffness. Shortstop J.J. Hardy has been shelved with back spasms and closer Zach Britton was held out of a scheduled intrasquad appearance as a precaution after feeling symptoms of an oblique injury.
In addition to Bourn's injury, catcher Welington Castillo was scratched from the starting lineup for Saturday's road Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates because of neck spasms. Castillo is considered day-to-day and will be re-evaluated Sunday, Showalter said.
The Orioles signed the 34-year-old Bourn to a minor league deal Monday. He would make $2 million if he makes the major league roster. The deal also includes a March 27 opt-out clause, which would seem to be impacted by the injury.
And while injuries regularly occur during spring training, the events that caused Bourn's are not rare.
"After he got through with the whole workout, like a lot of them do, they were throwing the football around and he reached up for it and jammed his finger," Showalter said.
"I was asking Seth Smith [a former quarterback at Mississippi] if he threw it," Showalter said. "I said, 'Have you guys ever heard of [Tom] Brady and Deflategate? Why don't you deflate the football a little bit.'"
Initially, the Orioles thought Bourn had just jammed his finger, but after being evaluated by head trainer Richie Bancells on Saturday, an X-ray revealed a break.
Players commonly throw a football around in their spare time — it's seen as an activity that builds shoulder strength and helps the repetition of arm action — but the risk of injury always exists. During the regular season, several Orioles players play touch football games in the outfield before games.
"It's actually a very useful [practice]," Showalter said. "You see our guys do it. It's good for the shoulder and the throwing actions. Most teams do it. He just caught it wrong.
"That's a part of his workout. For a lot of guys, that's part of their day. It's what they do."
Bourn was re-signed in an effort to upgrade the team's outfield defense while also adding speed and on-base capabilities. And while the Orioles have 13 players in camp who can play the outfield, any extended absence of Bourn would most affect veteran Craig Gentry and second-year player Joey Rickard, who share the same skill set as Bourn.
Castillo was scheduled to make his first spring start Saturday afternoon on the road in Bradenton. But Showalter said Castillo felt his neck spasm when he woke up Saturday morning.
"We'll see what tomorrow brings," Showalter said. "We had to adjust [the lineup]. He was hitting fourth today in the lineup. Was trying to get all those [World Baseball Classic] guys up."
Castillo was expected to play more often in early spring games because he's scheduled to leave the club on March 5 to join the Dominican Republic WBC team. The Orioles were planning on giving him more innings so he could get used to a new pitching staff before his departure and get the at-bats he needs in order to prepare for the WBC.
The Orioles were set to line up innings for Castillo in order for him to get looks at the major league pitchers before he leaves, and Showalter has said missing any extended time could hurt his adjustment.