Orioles pitching injuries: Is there any end in sight?

Maybe this is what Andy MacPhail meant when he said, “Pitching is fragile.” Orioles pitchers are eliminating themselves from the pitching competition due to various ailments and injuries - Zach Britton is the latest - and another Orioles pitching staff is getting smaller by attrition.

Buck Showalter said opening day jobs on last year’s staff went to the “last man standing.” This year they may go to the last man able to pitch without injury.

These various camp ailments once again must be frustrating for the team, but also for the fans, who have seen many a major and minor league O’s hurler derailed by time on the disabled list. For instance, just when Britton seemed to be making progress, he suffers a setback. And he isn’t just any pitcher, but one of the best on the team - and with maybe the most promising future of them all.

Several teams have been hit with some ailments or pitching injuries this spring and this is not limited to the Orioles, though it may seem like it is sometimes. Among pitchers in just the American League East that have had at least some issues or concerns this month are Tampa Bay’s David Price and Matt Moore and New York’s Freddy Garcia and Michael Pineda.

Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals revealed the news that their closer, Joakim Soria, may need Tommy John surgery. There were whispers that he had some minor injury issues last year and if he has that surgery, it would the second time in his career.

Pitching injuries are clearly very unpredictable. If a first baseman breaks his finger, there will be a definite course of action and timetable for his return. But if a pitcher has shoulder inflammation or elbow soreness, the medical staff can’t know for sure when it will go away or if it will it stay away. If Britton returns for hopefully an injury-free season, will this crop up again over the winter? How about next spring training?

I am guessing the best doctors in the world could not predict that. When a team looks to sign a pitcher - say via free agency - they pore over the medical records. But that still doesn’t predict with too much certainty what might happen to that shoulder, elbow or any other part of the arm in the future.

It sure does seem like there are more pitching injuries in recent years at a time when pitchers actually work less than they once did. There are no longer four-man rotations or pitchers that can work 300 innings. Jim Palmer did that four times and pitched 270 innings or more eight times in his Hall of Fame career.

Now, teams long to get pitchers who can give them 200 innings. Orioles starters last year had the worst ERA in the game and averaged just 5.44 innings per start.

I’ve had people who really know pitching tell me a doctor could look at a pitcher’s elbow or shoulder MRI and see some things that concern him yet that pitcher could pitch healthy the next five years. The same doctor could see a clean MRI that shows no issues and that pitcher could go on the DL two weeks later.

This is all one reason while many teams are now more reluctant than ever to give pitchers long-term contracts. The money is guaranteed, but the future health of the hurler is not.

At least Dan Duquette is taking a proactive approach. We probably won’t know if it is the right approach for quite a while, but his addition of Rick Peterson and his biomechanical analysis could prove to be one of his best additions since Duquette took over as executive vice president.

Then again, even Peterson would acknowledge, I’m pretty sure, that his analysis hopes to reduce the risk of future injury for pitchers but can’t eliminate it or maybe even decrease it by a great margin. Time will tell more on that.

Orioles pitching injuries keep coming to frustrate the team and its fans as we wonder if the end - or least reduction of them - is in our future.

Minor league injury updates: While on that injury topic, the Orioles’ 2011 minor league Player of the Year, Jonathan Schoop, has been dealing with a knee injury in minor league camp and has yet to play in an exhibition games, which began last Wednesday for the minor league players. The injury appears minor and Schoop should get in a game soon, possibly as early as today.

Schoop, who turned 20 in October, hit .290 with 24 doubles, 13 homers and 71 RBIs in 128 games last season between Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Frederick. The right-handed hitter from Willemstad, Curacao, elevated his game late in the year for Frederick, batting .321 with four homers and 21 RBIs over the Keys’ last 33 regular season games. In nine playoff games, as Frederick won the Carolina League championship, Schoop went 11-for-35 (.314) with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs.

Also, minor league outfielder Steven Bumbry, who missed the end of last season with a hamate bone injury, has missed some games at camp with that same injury. Bumbry could return to game action around March 25 or 26.

Two pitchers that seemed likely to begin the 2012 season in extended spring training when the clubs break north in a few weeks remain likely to stay behind in Florida come opening day. They are right-handers Jesse Beal and Dan Klein.

Beal missed all of last year after May 3 labrum surgery. The 21-year-old, 14th-round pick from 2008 went 7-6 with an ERA of 3.86 in 19 starts for Delmarva in 2010. He could be moved north to an affiliate around May 1st.

Klein will not begin the 2012 season with an affiliate, as expected, after his labrum surgery last August. The Orioles’ third-round pick in the 2010 draft out of UCLA will likely stay in Florida for at least a month or two before he may be able to join a club around June 1.

Tyler Townsend, who projects as the first baseman at Double-A Bowie this season, has been dealing with what are termed some nagging injuries at camp, but it doesn’t appear that it is anything that will keep him from starting the season on time in April.

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