Berken is workin' on his shoulder

Orioles reliever Jason Berken and his wife, Emily, spent a week in Aruba before returning to their Atlanta home a few days ago.

Now the work begins.

Berken started an exercise program on Monday as part of his rehab from a torn labrum that ended his season on Aug. 12. He's strengthening the shoulder in preparation for a throwing program that will begin, as it normally does, in late December or early January.

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It's a good sign that Berken is holding to his usual schedule. He expects to be full-go at spring training after receiving multiple opinions on his shoulder.

"At this point, I've just been trying to let this thing calm down and heal itself," he said. "My timetable to throw hasn't changed. No sense starting now."

Berken figures to spend the next few months immersed in his exercise program.

"I'm trying to get my shoulder as strong as possible and trying to attack it that way," he said. "I know a handful of guys who have gone to this trainer. He does a great job. (Head athletic trainer) Richie Bancells has been in contact with him and they're obviously on the same page. They've been working together to get a program set for me.

"It's just about strengthening the shoulder and taking pressure off the labrum and letting it heal up. From what I can tell, it feels significantly better. I'm pain-free."

Berken posted a 1.95 ERA and held opponents to a .235 average in 32 games before the All-Star break. He was arguably the team's most valuable player in the first half. But he posted a 7.71 ERA in nine games after the break, and opponents hit .389 against him, before the Orioles shut him down.

"The one good thing that came out of this is the timing itself," he said. "It gave me time to rest. That's the biggest thing that Richie and I emphasized. Take advantage of the time off and let it heal. If you try to rush back and pitch too soon, it'll set you back further. I'm at the point now where I don't feel any pain in my shoulder. It's a good time now to start rehabbing it, and I feel like I'll be 100 percent."

Team orthopedist Dr. John Wilckens believed that surgery wasn't necessary, and Berken received the same diagnosis after seeking another opinion.

"Guys have gone the non-surgical route and been able to pitch a long time," Berken said. "That's the mindset I have. I'm very positive, I'm looking forward to the next couple of months and I'm looking forward to next season."

Meanwhile, Juan Samuel told The Sun that he expects to return as third base coach, proving once again that we can't react too strongly to all the names that are floated past us. He wasn't even mentioned as a candidate. Wasn't it supposed to be Brian Butterfield if he didn't get a managerial job?

Remember when Pedro Feliz was reportedly the top choice to play third base this year. Then it was Joe Crede. Then someone floated a Kevin Kouzmanoff rumor at the Winter Meetings. The Orioles ended up with Miguel Tejada.

It's that time of the year.

So how many more days until pitchers and catchers report?

To review: Jim Presley is the hitting coach. Rick Adair is the bullpen coach. Don Wakamatsu will be the bench coach if he doesn't find a managing gig. Mark Connor will be the pitching coach. Juan Samuel will be the third base coach. That leaves first base, where Wayne Kirby has emerged as a serious candidate.

So where's the ex-Oriole?

Samuel doesn't really count, since he's an ex-coach and interim manager. Kirby apparently spent part of spring training with the Orioles back in 2000, as I was reminded last week. I'm still trying to envision him inside the cramped clubhouse at Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

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