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Injury might keep Julio from winning closer's job

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Baltimore Orioles reliever Jorge Julio has been sidelined with a strained right forearm, an injury
that could force him to miss the regular-season opener and
definitely hinders his chances of winning the closer's job out of
spring training.

Julio has inflammation of the flexor muscle and will be placed
on a rehabilitative throwing program the next three weeks. The
Orioles hope to have the right-hander back on the mound in the
middle of their exhibition schedule, although there are no
guarantees.

"This will set him back, but there's still a fair chance at
this point that he could be ready for Opening Day," Orioles
executive vice president Jim Beattie said Tuesday.

Julio dealt with the injury last season, when he recorded 22
saves in 26 chances and went 2-5 with a 4.57 ERA.

"It was kind of an ongoing kind of maintenance thing," Beattie
said. "Then he came in this year and was complaining that it was
sore to the touch."

Julio lost his job as Baltimore's stopper in September, giving
way to left-hander B.J. Ryan, but hoped to regain the position this
spring. Now it appears Ryan will win the job by default.

"I think it probably hurts his chances of starting the season
in the closer role, but that doesn't necessary mean that if he
comes back and he's healthy that he wouldn't at some point [be the
closer]," Beattie said.

Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli, however, believes Julio still has
a shot to make the opening day roster -- as the closer.

"He'll be back on the mound before the season starts and I
fully expect him to be ready by opening day," Mazzilli said.

Julio agreed.

"It's a little sore, but I can play catch," he said. "It's no
big deal. I should be ready in two or three weeks."

An MRI on Sunday also revealed ligament damage, but that was
determined to be an old injury. Julio will throw on the side every
other day, gradually increasing the distance as time goes by, and
take anti-inflammatory medication.

"He'll be re-examined along the way. They'll just monitor the
way he's feeling," Beattie said. "If it's getting better, then
they'll continue the program. If it's getting worse, then they'll
change the approach."

Julio says he feels no discomfort while throwing, but
experiences pain afterward.

"Being it's so early, we can shut him down now and start from
scratch," Orioles trainer Richie Bancells said.

Julio said earlier this week that the arm bothered him while he
was pitching winter ball in Venezuela. He temporarily stopped
pitching at the Orioles' request, but visa problems hindered the
team's effort to get him to Baltimore for medical attention.

"It was kind of frustrating," Beattie said. "Last year, we
had Julio come in during the offseason and it worked out pretty
well. This year we weren't able to do that."