Tippy Martinez is counting the cortisone shots. "Let's see," he said, "I had one in 1984, and two or three last season. I had enough that the relief was getting more and more temporary, which didn't even make the pain worthwhile. That's when I knew my problem was serious."

The South Florida sun has left him tired and soaked in perspiration, but has not melted away the memories of two awful seasons. "A nightmare," he said softly.

"Let's face it," he added. "I've been getting waxed for two years. When you've had the success I've had, it's tough to take."

He is 36 and here with the Baltimore Orioles this spring not because he needs the money or the fame, but because he needs to prove about a dozen baseball people wrong. If what he says is right -- that his left shoulder finally is healthy -- the Orioles' bullpen will have the left-hander it desperately needs and, if that is true, the Orioles will be much closer to making a run at the pennant.

If he is wrong -- and more than a few people inside the Orioles offices and clubhouse think he is -- he almost certainly is beginning his last major league season.

Almost 10 years after they obtained him from the New York Yankees, the Orioles privately say they still are trying to reach the real Tippy Martinez. They know him off the field as one of their most even-tempered players, one almost quiet to a fault and dedicated to his family and church.

Yet on the field, they've seen enough of the stubbornness, the refusals to work out in the winter, the reluctance to study hitters that they never know what they're getting.

"With Tippy, it's always someone else's fault," an enraged Manager Earl Weaver said once last summer. "He has been in the big leagues 10 years and has never been used right once."

But not even Weaver could have predicted what has happened to Martinez the last two years.

Two springs ago, he was here as one of the most important parts of baseball's best team, the world champion Orioles. If he wasn't the most coveted of all the Orioles pitchers, he was close. He had a vicious curve ball that some scouts claimed was one of the single most unhittable pitches in the game.

He also had a rubber arm and a rubber attitude and had persevered through a manager named Earl Weaver and was now prospering under one named Joe Altobelli.

Two years later, several Orioles privately say they can pinpoint the day his career started to come apart.

"I know what they're talking about," Martinez said. "It was 1983 in Boston, and I'd pitched eight or nine days in a row. I went in the game and, after I'd thrown a few pitches, Eddie Murray comes to the mound and said, 'When did you start throwing a change-up?' I said, 'That's my fast ball.' "

A couple weeks after that, Martinez had an appendectomy. After missing six weeks, he finished the season strongly.

That was it. Since then, he has been good in some short stretches, but never consistently. He pitched 14 fewer innings in 1984 and almost never pitched without shoulder pain.

After the 1984 season, he worked hard to rehabilitate his shoulder and came to spring training saying he was healthy.

Which he wasn't. If 1984 was bad, 1985 was worse -- he pitched 70 innings and had career worsts in saves (four) and ERA (5.40).

If the Orioles were counting on him last spring, they are not this spring. He made good on three of his first nine save opportunities last season and got only two more chances after July 3.

This spring, there is virtually no pressure on him because the No. 1 Orioles reliever is right-hander Don Aase and, if Martinez can't pitch, Weaver has two other left-handers, experienced Brad Havens and rookie Eric Bell.

"Tippy ain't a key," Weaver said. "That's the way I feel. If he can't do the job, we'll find someone who can."

Martinez's low point of 1985 came Aug. 21 in Seattle when Weaver called on him to protect a 10-4 lead in the sixth inning. He struck out Jim Presley to end the sixth, but after a single and two walks in the seventh, Weaver stalked to the mound to take him out.

As Martinez left, he yelled at Weaver, Weaver yelled back and they took their differences into the clubhouse and newspapers that night.

"I feel bad about that, but I was dealing with a lot of frustration," Martinez said. "I'd been a pretty good pitcher for a long time, and I just couldn't handle what happened to me."

When last season ended, he had a decision to make: quit or continue. He said he's in good shape financially, and that this season's $450,000 salary isn't the reason he's back in uniform.

"I'm here to prove something," he said.

When the season ended, he put his Denver home up for sale with plans to make Baltimore his year-around home. (Ironically, the Orioles have urged him to do this for years because they'd like to monitor his offseason work more closely. But until his career got shaky, he apparently never considered it.)

He is heavily involved in Baltimore's fundamentalist Rock Church (which also lists the Orioles' Scott McGregor as a member) and he has started a successful commercial cleaning business.

But when he decided to play again, one of his first visits was to Dr. Arthur Pappas, the respected Boston Red Sox team physician, to get the dozenth or so opinion on his shoulder.

"He found a muscle in the back of my shoulder that was completely collapsed," he said. "He told me he'd guarantee me that if I strengthened the muscle I'd be fine. It involves simple little exercises, the same ones I'd seen Jim Palmer doing for years.

"I used to watch Palmer do these things and think, 'That guy is ridiculous.' Who ever heard of doing exercises where you worked up to five-pound weights and no more?"

After the previous winter, when he'd tortured himself on Cybex machines, he found the secret might have been simple.

"I know the bad outings are going to come and go, but the key is that my arm feels good," he said. "Right now, it feels very good. I'm actually getting confidence back already. I know I need to go to the mound and get batters out, but a pitcher knows how his arm is supposed to feel. If it doesn't feel right, your confidence is shot, anyway."

The Orioles' general manager, Hank Peters, reports having had more than a few chances to trade Martinez this winter and decided not to, presumably because Martinez's value to the Orioles is more than Peters can get on the open market.

Another reason might have been that, even through the worst of times, it is hard to dislike Martinez. He remains cooperative and patient, never ruffled, never willing not to try some other kind of rehabilitation.

"Well, we all have different ways of handling things," he said. "I think that, if I hadn't made my commitment to God, I might have given up a long time ago. I don't see how other guys handle things without this crutch, if that's what you want to call it. That's what it is for me, but it's a good one.

"I have no idea how Earl's going to use me this season. I know he likes the idea of an over-powering right-handed reliever like Donnie, and I might be the spot guy. The thing now is to go out and pitch without pain and show him I'm able. Everything else will fall into place."