FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 13 -- Once a first-round pick and the top prospect acquired when the Orioles traded Sidney Ponson to the San Francisco Giants, pitcher Kurt Ainsworth will fly to Baltimore on Monday for an examination of an aching right shoulder that could end his playing career.
Ainsworth, who has suffered numerous arm problems during a four-year major league career, said he would consider retirement if tests prove his shoulder pain is serious. Last season, Ainsworth, 26, missed a large part of the season after arthroscopic elbow surgery. A stress fracture in his right shoulder ended his 2003 season with San Francisco. Ainsworth also missed a season at Louisiana State University after undergoing elbow-reconstruction surgery.
Orioles pitcher Kurt Ainesworth is considering retirement if it turns out that the ache he feels in his shoulder is serious.
(Luis M. Alvarez - AP)
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"It's something that I will have to wait and see what the doctor says," Ainsworth said. "I am going to go in there optimistic, hoping it's just some sort of inflammation. I am going to go back and reassess everything because this sure hasn't been a fun past couple of years. It's been pretty miserable to tell you the truth, especially performing at a level that you know you're better than. It's not that much fun.
"If I feel like [if] I can't get back to the same level I did before, then maybe I would consider doing something else. But I am not even thinking about that right now. Hopefully, nothing is wrong and I'll rest for a couple of weeks."
Ainsworth said he first felt pain in the shoulder during the second week of spring training after a 15-minute bullpen session. The pain had been sporadic, but it seemed to affect Ainsworth on Friday when he allowed five runs in two innings against the Florida Marlins.
"It hurts to get loose," Ainsworth said. "It hurts to throw. It affects those things, but that's what I have to get back, because it does affect the way I throw. It affects my pitching. If I could just deal with the pain and throw like I have done in the past few years with everything else going on, that's different. But this is actually starting to affect my pitches now. I have nothing there. It's like I'm throwing it and the ball doesn't even come out. I am lobbing it in there."
Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said he never suspected Ainsworth might be seriously hurt. With Ainsworth's arm troubles, the Orioles brought the pitcher along slowly this spring.
Ainsworth threw a scoreless inning in his spring debut a week ago in Vero Beach, Fla. On Friday, Ainsworth did not allow a run in his first inning of work. He allowed five runs in his second inning. Miller said he thought Ainsworth was trying to push the ball during that second inning.
"Sometimes he said he felt nothing, other times he said he felt something," Miller said. "I just suggested when he started feeling something, 'Why don't you get your mind cleared and get it checked out?' I told him that four days ago. First time coming off an injury, anything you feel is reason for alarm."
The Orioles hoped Ainsworth would make a strong bid for the fifth spot in the rotation. Matt Riley's slow start had allowed Ainsworth an opportunity to make the major league team. Last season Ainsworth began the year in the starting rotation, but was sent to Class AAA Ottawa after posting a 0-1 record with a 9.68 ERA in 30 2/3 innings. He arrived in camp and proclaimed himself healthy. If the injury is serious, Ainsworth may fall back on a business degree he earned from LSU in the offseason.
Even if the injury isn't career-ending, it will set Ainsworth back, likely landing him in Ottawa to start the season.
Ainsworth believes the stress fracture in his shoulder in 2003 has hindered him for the past two years, likely changing his mechanics and causing some of the subsequent arm troubles.
"It's just one thing on top of the other," Ainsworth said. "It seems like I am going for every area of the arm. First the Tommy John [elbow ligament replacement], to the outside of the elbow to the shoulder blade to the shoulder joint. I have covered about all of them. At least I got to do some good things early. If I never played again, I have had a good career. But hopefully, it's nothing."