- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

VERO BEACH, Fla. In what has become a daily ritual at the Baltimore Orioles' Fort Lauderdale complex, Albert Belle pulled himself out of the lineup again yesterday, his degenerative right hip too painful to allow him to make the two-hour trip to face the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Though Belle's condition continues to be evaluated daily, the Orioles appear to be assuming the worst.
"Given the events of [Saturday] and [yesterday], if somebody had a gun to my head and said, 'If you don't give me an answer right now I'm going to shoot you,' it would be difficult to project Albert on our 25-man roster," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But that's not anywhere near the [final] decision."
After missing Baltimore's first two exhibition games, Belle was set to start in right field yesterday. He arrived at Fort Lauderdale Stadium early to receive treatment, then informed trainer Richie Bancells he could not join the rest of the team on the bus.
Belle again is scheduled to start in right field today when the Orioles meet the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie though based on the events of the past few days there is little reason to believe his condition will improve enough to allow him to play.
Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said he did not expect Belle to meet with team orthopedist Michael Jacobs yesterday. If Belle is forced to sit out today's game as well, though, he may be forced to seek medical help from Jacobs, who is in Sarasota.
For now, it appears the Orioles have no choice but to monitor Belle's progress on a day-by-day basis. If the team were to decide to release the 34-year-old slugger, it would have to wait until March 12, the first day major league teams are allowed to make roster moves.
"I would think that we'd like to have a grip on what we're doing as far as Albert is concerned no later than mid-spring training," Hargrove said yesterday morning before departing Fort Lauderdale. "I think we need to have a pretty clear idea if this is going to work or not. I don't want to be held to that time frame. It may be later than that, it may be earlier. But we are coming up on a time that a decision needs to be made."
Belle, who admitted Saturday his condition has regressed over the last week or so, refused to comment yesterday, other than to say, "We'll give it another day and see what happens."
Extremely limited in his running abilities, Belle is unable to play the field in his current state. Because his hitting stroke does not appear to be hindered by the bad hip, some have questioned whether Belle could serve as a designated hitter.
He still would be forced to run the bases, though, and would probably need to keep himself loose (by riding a stationary bicycle, for instance) between at-bats.
"You get a guy that can DH, ride a bike and play three times a week, what does that get you?" Hargrove said. "If he can't run well, unless he hits the ball out of the ballpark every time, he's going to be a liability."
Thrift does not see designated hitter as an option.
"I think the position of designated hitter, you still have certain physical requirements you have to do to participate on a winning team," Thrift said. "It's not a fallback position that anybody can just walk up to home plate and hit a baseball. It's not like you're playing where you hit the ball, run to first and come home. This is the major leagues."
Thrift and the rest of the Orioles staff will begin weekly assessments of every player in camp Saturday, at which time they will begin putting together a 25-man roster.
Short of a significant turn of events, it is increasingly unlikely that initial roster will include Belle's name.
"I'm the last person in the world who wants to see Albert done," Hargrove said. "Albert is one of the top run producers in the game when he's healthy.
"The thing of it is, this isn't an ordinary injury where it's a muscle that's hurt and you bring it along slowly. This is, from what I understand, bone on bone, and there's nothing in there to heal."

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