Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Rijo shrugs off sixth surgery


But his chances for rotation slim

By John Fay
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SARASOTA, Fla. - Jose Rijo talked as though he were going to have a cavity filled, not undergo a sixth surgery on his right elbow.

"It's a small procedure - no big deal," he said.

On Tuesday, Rijo flew to Birmingham, Ala., where Dr. James Andrews was scheduled to perform an arthroscopic procedure to remove a bone spur.

Rijo said he'll be out 10 days to three weeks. The Reds announced he'll be out four weeks.

"I don't think this particular procedure should be too much of an issue," Reds general manager Jim Bowden said.

However minor the setback, Rijo is out of the race for the No. 5 starter spot for now.

Jimmy Anderson, Seth Etherton and Chris Reitsma remain in the hunt. Pete Harnisch could enter it if he continues to progress in rehabilitating from elbow surgery.

Rijo said he discovered the problem two weeks ago. An X-ray confirmed the presence of a spur, near the surface.

Rijo has pitched three times this spring and has gotten progressively worse.

He pitched two hitless innings his first time out. The second time, he allowed five hits and three runs over three innings. He opted for the surgery after needing 40 pitches to get through two-thirds of an inning Tuesday in a Minor League Accelerated Program game.

"I've got no choice," Rijo said. "I can't throw strikes. I don't have any command."

Rijo did have another choice: retire. He's 37 years old and financially secure and has gone through several comebacks and rehabs.

But Rijo said he didn't consider retirement. "No, because it's no big deal," he said. "If it was a big procedure, I would."

Bowden agreed with Rijo's decision. "It's a matter of getting the bone spur out and bringing him back," Bowden said. "He's come such a long way. Fortunately, from what I understand, parts of the elbow from previous surgeries have not been affected. They'll remove it and take the restriction away, and he should be able to come back where he left off."

Before the setback, Rijo was getting great reviews.

"The way he was throwing, people were looking for another miracle," manager Bob Boone said. "And he's the miracle man. It's a little setback. It's sad, as well as he was throwing."

That's why Rijo opted for the surgery.

"Why not?" he said. "I've had the best slider and the best fastball I've had in a long time. I know I can be better than the pitcher that I was the last two years. I know I can be the old Rijo."

It has been a long time since he has been that Rijo. He was one of the best pitchers in the game when his elbow problems began. He was 87-53 with a 2.65 ERA in his first seven years as a Red and led the league in starts in 1993 and '94.

The elbow problems began in 1995. He had his first surgery in 1996 and missed the '96, '97, '98, '99 and 2000 seasons.

He returned in 2001, chalking up a 2.12 ERA in 13 appearances.

Last year he made the club with a stellar spring, even working his way into the rotation. He was 4-1 with a 3.89 ERA on May 18.

But he ended up on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. Overall, he was 5-4 with a 5.14 ERA.




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