- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Scott Erickson approached Mike Hargrove late last season and made a proclamation to the Baltimore Orioles' manager.
"You watch," Erickson told Hargrove. "I'm going to be your Opening Day starter."
And what was Hargrove's reaction to this bold statement from a pitcher coming off elbow ligament replacement surgery?
"I thought, 'Yeah right,'" he said. "I just thought the chances were real slim."
What had been a slim chance last fall is now a 100 percent certainty: Hargrove named Erickson his Opening Day starter yesterday morning.
"He has certainly convinced us all," Hargrove said.
The 34-year-old right-hander last pitched in a major league game July 25, 2000, against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards. On Monday afternoon, Erickson will make his return against the same team in the same ballpark, with reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens opposing him.
The thought of Erickson pitching on Opening Day, 20 months removed from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, may have seemed unlikely last fall. But with each outing this spring, Erickson has made his case stronger, so much so that yesterday's official announcement had been a foregone conclusion for several weeks.
However, Erickson's final tuneup proved disastrous last night as he allowed 10 hits and six runs in 5⅔ innings as the Orioles lost to the Florida Marlins 8-2 in Melbourne, Fla.
Erickson, who had a 3-0 record and 2.92 ERA in five spring starts heading into last night's exhibition game against the Florida Marlins in Viera, Fla., beat out Jason Johnson, who led the staff with 10 victories last season, for the No.1 assignment.
"We really kind of set it up with that in mind from the get-go," Hargrove said. "But we probably up until about a week ago still had flexibility to change that. It was really between him and Johnson. And Scotty just kept doing what he's doing and got better every time out."
In addition to pitching well this spring, Erickson has shown impressive durability, given the magnitude of his surgery. Entering last night, he had pitched into the seventh inning in his two most recent starts, and his 24⅔ innings were second only to teammate Sidney Ponson (26 innings in six appearances) in the AL.
Durability, of course, has been one of Erickson's signature traits throughout his career. In the nine full major-league seasons he has pitched, Erickson has topped the 200-inning mark seven times.
"He's such a workhorse," Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce said. "For him to come back and pitch the way he has, basically picking up right from where he left off when he was healthy … to come back like that is pretty impressive."
Erickson will be counted on to anchor a young and potentially strong Baltimore rotation. Johnson, 28, will start the second game of the season Wednesday night against the Yankees, with Ponson following Thursday night. Josh Towers, 25, will start next Friday against the Boston Red Sox, followed by Erickson next Saturday and then either Calvin Maduro, 28, or Rick Bauer, 25, next Sunday. (Maduro is currently on the disabled list with a strained right forearm, but he is expected to be ready to make his first start. If he can't do it, Bauer would become the No.5 starter.)
In last night's game, Ramon Castro and Alex Gonzalez drove in three runs apiece for the Marlins. Each homered against Erickson, Castro delivering a three-run shot in the second inning and Gonzalez adding a two-run job in the sixth.
Florida pitchers allowed only one hit until David Segui hit a two-run, pinch-hit homer for the Orioles in the eighth inning.


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