Spring training hadn't even ended, and the Baltimore Orioles already were in trouble. Don Aase had saved a club-record 34 games in 1986, but with only a few days remaining before opening day his arm looked tired, his fastball mediocre.

This was the first sign that the upcoming season might not turn out as the Orioles had planned, and as the season ended a proud franchise was in disarray, having been out of contention since May as it completed its worst season in 32 years.

Aase's was the first of several crippling injuries the Orioles suffered in 1987. Before the year was out, Fred Lynn, Ken Gerhart, Scott McGregor, Bill Ripken, Ken Dixon and Dave Schmidt missed significant time because of injuries.

At one time the organization by which others were measured, the Orioles finished the season without an 11-game winner on the pitching staff; with the second-worst staff earned run average in the big leagues in the last 30 years, and headed for a winter that, besides the ongoing front-office changes, will include a roster overhaul.

Aase was the beginning. He eventually would explain that the back injury that sidelined him toward the end of '86 had prevented him from doing all his pre-spring conditioning work. By the time he showed up in Miami, he was six weeks behind everyone else.

And then -- the biggest mistake of all -- he tried to make up for it all at once. At least one Orioles coach noticed the lack of velocity and that Aase was attempting to compensate by changing his motion.

That coach told his bosses: "We'd better be careful with Aase. He's going to wind up hurting himself."

But Aase didn't ask for time off and none was offered.

So there he was on opening day, pitching the final 1 1/3 innings and getting the win in a 2-1 victory over Texas. Three days later, he went 2 1/3 innings against the Rangers. He pitched five days later, but felt a twinge of pain in his right shoulder.

"It's scary," he said. "For all the problems I've had with my elbow, I've never had a problem with my shoulder."

Aase's last appearance was May 23, when he faced three hitters, got two of them out and earned his second and final save.

"It's just not right," he said, emotionally, and apparently scared, after the game. "I've got to get it looked at."What Might Have Been

Doctors in Baltimore and Los Angeles examined him and, a few weeks later, he had arthroscopic surgery to clean up some damage in the shoulder. He's now back in Los Angeles on a rehabilitation program.

"You don't like to feel sorry for yourself," Orioles General Manager Hank Peters said in an interview before he was fired. "But if we have him, the whole season looks different. Our relievers have blown -- what is it? -- 24 leads late in the game. If we keep those leads, we're having a pretty good year {91-71 instead of 67-95}."

Freeze frame: On Sept. 14 in Toronto, the Blue Jays hit a major league-record 10 homers and beat the Orioles, 18-3. "It was like they had a vendetta against us," Dixon said.

Lynn was 35 years old on opening day and, after missing 88 games his first two seasons with the Orioles, was determined to put one more big season together. After a winter of weightlifting, he was strong and fit.

Then an hour into the season, his trouble began when he tried to hustle a single into a double, slid into second and injured his right shoulder. It was the same injury that had sidelined him much of the final seven weeks of 1986.

Lynn will be 36 next opening day, and with two years remaining on his contract probably will be moved to designated hitter to make room for Gerhart in center field. If Eddie Murray is traded, he could wind up at first base, but, wherever he is, the Orioles want the injury risk to be less.

Freeze frame: On June 16 at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles and Yankees were tied, 2-2, in the sixth when Wayne Tolleson hit what should have been an inning-ending double-play grounder to shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. But second baseman Alan Wiggins failed to cover second base, and the Yankees scored twice and eventually won, 6-5. Afterward, Manager Cal Ripken Sr. closed the clubhouse door and could be heard screaming at his players.

While Gerhart and John Shelby were given starting outfield jobs in spring training, Larry Sheets was told he'd be a left-handed bat off the bench, an occasional designated hitter and an extra outfielder. He was furious. In his first two seasons, he'd hit 35 homers and driven in 110 runs in only 666 at-bats. He came to spring training thinking he'd get to play against both left-handed and right-handed pitching, but found he might not be playing against anyone.

But when Shelby slumped badly, Sheets moved into the lineup in the eighth game of the season. A star was born. He has been a regular since and has not only hit right-handed pitching, but left-handers, as well.

In only 469 at-bats, he hit 31 homers, drove in 94 runs and scored 74 runs. He batted .316, but it broke down impressively: .330 with runners in scoring position and .320 against left-handed pitching. He led the Orioles in homers, batting, slugging, RBI and game-winning RBI.

Freeze frame: On April 29 at Royals Stadium, the Orioles lost, 5-4, in a game that included Murray getting tagged out at third because he didn't slide; right fielder Shelby missing a cutoff man by 20 feet on a key ninth-inning play, and the Royals scoring the winning run on third baseman Floyd Rayford's throwing error.

Dixon had been their most sought-after player at the winter meetings, had the best arm in the organization and, after 8-14 and 11-13 seasons, was being counted on heavily in 1987.

"I'd say he's the key to the season," Peters said in spring training. "He's got so much ability, but he's got to win more than 11 games."

Now, no one on the Orioles' staff knows what to make of Dixon, who went 7-10 with a 6.43 ERA and allowed 31 homers in 105 innings.

Dixon believes he might have some kind of shoulder injury, and is being examined by doctors. Now 27, Dixon no longer fits in the team's plans unless he proves otherwise in spring training.

McGregor earned $488,500 for each of his two victories this season. Once one of the most respected left-handers in the game, he has gone 13-22 the past two years and is still on the roster only because he has $2 million remaining on his contract (1988-89).

Never much of an offseason worker, McGregor will have Orioles trainer Richie Bancells as a sort of nanny this winter to make sure he does enough weightlifting, running and throwing to get his arm back in shape. It will be his last chance.

Freeze frame: On June 6 in Toronto, the Orioles blew a 5-1 lead and lost, 8-5, in a game that included catcher Charlie Moore, fresh from hitting .217 in the California League, connecting for a two-run homer off Dixon. "I hope they don't expect me to do that every game," a stunned Moore said. "I don't think that was the pitch he wanted to throw." 'Still Learning'

Eric Bell came to the Orioles after 17 victories at three levels in 1986 and was handed a spot in the rotation before spring training. It didn't work out. While he was very good at times, especially during one stretch in July, he was otherwise mediocre (9-13, 5.57).

The last month was particularly frustrating because he started most games strongly, then faded in the fourth or fifth inning.

"You have to be patient with young pitchers," Peters said. "They're still learning, and I'm sure they've learned a lot this year."

Other than Sheets, the brightest star for the Orioles was Bill Ripken, 22, who hit .308, played a superior defensive second base and, from the moment of his midseason arrival, added enthusiasm to a surly clubhouse. His season ended Sept. 15 when he tore ligaments in his right ankle, but it appears the four-year search for a second baseman is finally over.

"It was a good experience," he said. "By next season, I will have been around the league a couple of times and seen most of the pitchers."

Freeze frame: On June 28 at Tiger Stadium, the Orioles were protecting a 7-4 lead in the ninth when Ripken Sr. called on Tom Niedenfuer, who had pitched 2 1/3 innings the day before. The Tigers got three consecutive homers to tie, then won it on an 11th-inning single. This game led to a heart-to-heart talk between Niedenfuer and Ripken Sr. in which it was decided to use the reliever for two innings or less -- never more. Thereafter, he had six saves and a 2.65 ERA in his last 17 appearances.

"I never would have believed what happened to this team," a veteran Oriole said recently. "I'd just taken winning for granted. But now we've got players who make mistakes we never used to make. We've got pitchers that can't throw. It's like this has been a bad dream."