- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

BALTIMORE Scott Erickson's otherwise splendid return from Tommy John surgery experienced its first significant setback last night, though Erickson's early departure in the Baltimore Orioles' 6-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians had nothing to do with his surgically repaired elbow.
Erickson struggled through his worst start of the season, failing to get out of the third inning before leaving with a strained right groin. The Orioles failed to pull off a series victory over the Indians and fell back to the .500 mark (17-17) as they prepare for a six-game trip through Tampa Bay and Cleveland.
The bigger concern last night, however, was the status of staff ace Erickson, who had been making a strong case for the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award. Neither Erickson nor manager Mike Hargrove expects him to miss his next start, though with an off day today, the team likely will give the right-hander one extra day of rest before sending him back to the mound.
"Hopefully, after six days off, it will be much better," said Erickson, who felt tightness in the area following his last start but didn't think much of it.
He came into last night's game at Camden Yards with a 3-2 record and 3.45 ERA, but he didn't look like his usual self right from the start. He tweaked his groin toward the end of his pregame warmup session, though he did not inform the coaching staff until after the first inning.
"I was hoping to keep us close for about five innings to give our bullpen a chance and just try to suck it up for a couple of innings," Erickson said.
It didn't take long for Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley to realize something was wrong. Erickson's fastball was down from the low 90s to the mid-80s, and when he plunked designated hitter Ellis Burks to open the second inning, Wiley and trainer Richie Bancells came to the mound to check on him.
"I think it affected a couple of things," Hargrove said of the groin injury. "It kept him from really driving off the rubber and using his legs. And I think it affected his control, too."
After a brief conversation, Erickson remained in the game, though his troubles were only beginning. He gave up a double to Russell Branyan, walked Jolbert Cabrera and watched as Einar Diaz missed a home run over the left-field fence by a foot. Omar Vizquel singled in Branyan with the second run of the inning, but Erickson escaped further damage when Vizquel was caught rounding first base too far.
There was no one to bail out Erickson in the third inning, only Hargrove's quick hook after three batters. Following a single and a walk to open the inning, Erickson served up a fat 2-0 pitch to Jim Thome, and the Indians' cleanup hitter lofted a moon shot to center field for a three-run homer.
One more infield single, and that was it for Erickson (3-3). Hargrove walked out to the mound, talked with the pitcher for a few moments and then summoned Travis Driskill from the bullpen.
"You feel bad to go out there and let your teammates down that's the bottom line," Erickson said. "They count on you every time to go out there, and then you leave them in a hole like that."
Driskill, a 30-year-old rookie who had struggled in his first three appearances with the Orioles, came in and did what Erickson could not: shut down the Indians. Though he put five men on base via walks or hit batter, Driskill went five innings without allowing a hit, helping keep his team in the game.
The long relief effort was wasted because Baltimore's batters were handcuffed by Cleveland right-hander Danys Baez, who allowed one run and six hits over seven innings to improve to 4-3. The Orioles finally broke through in the sixth, when Gary Matthews Jr. tripled for the second straight night and scored on Jeff Conine's sacrifice fly. They added a run off ex-teammate Chad Paronto in the ninth.


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