Orioles' Wright Is Finding That His Arm Is All Wrong

Fausto Carmona
Cleveland Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona gives up six hits and walks two in a career-best 8 1-3 innings against the Orioles. (Mark Duncan - AP)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007

CLEVELAND, April 29 -- Jaret Wright once ruled the mound here as a fireballing 21-year-old, when he had a cannon for a right arm and the notion of invincibility that youth allows, but age slowly takes away.

Ten years and two surgeries later, that he would return to Jacobs Field added to the cruelty for Wright on Sunday. At 31, what his mind wants to do and what his body will allow have perhaps diverged to a nearly irreconcilable point.

There may not be many fastballs left in Wright's chronic right shoulder, a fact made solemnly clear during the Baltimore Orioles' 6-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians, the team with which Wright became the second-youngest pitcher to start Game 7 of the World Series in 1997.

He could throw 98 mph then, equipped with Cy Young potential and a wide-open future. But Wright's shoulder gave out twice in 1999, when he made the first of two trips to the disabled list with an injury that never fully healed. Surgeries followed in 2000 and 2001. His latest bout with shoulder trouble sent him to the disabled list on April 10, after his second start as an Oriole.

In his return Sunday, Wright lasted 61 pitches and three innings, reaching 90 once on the stadium radar gun but more often scraping the high 80s. He walked the first two batters he faced on 10 pitches and, "when your arm is not right, that's the first sign, not being able to command the strike zone," Manager Sam Perlozzo said. Wright gave up three runs, then needed to be convinced -- by both Perlozzo and himself -- it was time to exit the game.

"You want to compete," Wright said. "I want to be out there like nobody's business. When your body does something that hampers that ability, it's tough to swallow, especially with what I've been through. We'll see what happens."

Wright and the Orioles wanted to wait 24 hours to make a decision as to whether he will return to the disabled list with the same shoulder injury, and it seems likely he'll have to. After the game he walked from the trainer's room with a blank stare, an unknotted tie hanging around his neck, before slumping in a chair at his locker.

"It doesn't feel too good," Wright said. "I tried to get through it. It just felt bad and kept getting worse."

There were other ominous signs for Wright. Teammates spoke about him with a reverence, but with little promise.

"Unfortunately, for respect to Jaret, I really don't want to talk about how he's feeling," catcher Paul Bako said. "He was battling, and he was competing. Whenever he's got the ball, whether he's throwing 98 like he used to or 88, he's really wants to compete."

During a rehab start in Class A Frederick last week, Wright pitched four innings, spotting the ball how he wanted to, locating it down in the strike zone. The pain in his shoulder made it impossible to do any of that Sunday.

"He was trying to be out there for us," outfielder Jay Gibbons said. "Maybe when he had no business being out there."

Fausto Carmona did, though, offering Wright a reminder of what he once did here. Just 23, he dazzled Baltimore for 8 1/3 innings, recording 18 ground ball outs. The Orioles mustered only six hits and one run off Carmona, who may be sent to Class AAA Buffalo, anyway, when Cliff Lee returns for Cleveland.

"He pretty much said, 'Here's the sinker, it's coming, hit it,' " Bako said. "And we kept hitting it on the ground and at people."

Wright could only watch. After the third inning, Perlozzo sought out Wright in the dugout and, "I didn't get a real positive response out of him. We didn't need to take any more chances at that point."

Wright knew Perlozzo was right, but only after his mind and body had waged a tug of war. Ten years after he became a phenom in the other dugout, it was no longer a fair fight.

"I'm hard-headed. I always want to go back out," Wright said. "But you start hurting the team trying to do something that's not going to happen. A miracle wasn't going to happen. But you always want to go back out."

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