The sight of Orioles designated hitter Wilson Betemit rolling and writhing on the infield grass of Ed Smith Stadium on Monday afternoon suddenly quieted a sellout crowd and sent chills through the home dugout.
As routine an act as Betemit’s was — going on a full-count pitch from first base to second during the Orioles 12-9 Grapefruit League win over the Red Sox — the result was anything but. Betemit’s right knee buckled mid-stride as he stumbled in the basepath, crumbled to the ground and clutched his knee in severe pain.
Moments after Betemit was carted off the field, Orioles manager Buck Showalter called the sight “sickening” to a national TV audience watching the game. He left the dugout in the seventh inning to be with Betemit in the trainer’s room to console him, and when speaking to the media following the game he looked blankly at the ground after struggling to speak optimistically about Betemit’s uncertain prognosis.
“He’s pretty down right now, as we are,” Showalter said. “Wilson is one of the better young men in the game. For him personally, hopefully we get lucky. But he’s a tough guy. For him to lay there [like that], you know he was in some pain.”
An MRI would reveal a Grade 2/3 tear of Betemit’s posterior cruciate ligament with associated injuries, according to the team. Betemit, one of the Orioles’ top hitters against right-handed pitching last season, hobbled out of the Orioles’ complex — his right leg in a full mobilizer.
More about the degree of Betemit’s injury will be known Tuesday. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Monday night he didn’t have a timetable on Betemit’s return, but hoped his recovery would be more in terms of weeks rather than months.
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“I’m going to think positive thoughts and obviously it doesn’t look good right now, but we’ll see,” Showalter said just before Betemit left to get an MRI. “I’m more concerned about Wilson the human being as opposed to what he does for our club. We’ll see where he is physically. What it does for our club kind of pales in comparison. You don’t want to lose the person as much as the player.”
With one out in the fifth inning of Monday’s game, Betemit was running full-speed from first to second on a full-count pitch to Manny Machado and crumbled to the ground as Machado lifted a popup to shallow left field. Machado’s hit was caught by Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias as Betemit fell and Iglesias threw to first to double up Betemit.
Showalter, head trainer Richie Bancells and first base coach Wayne Kirby ran to Betemit. He was helped onto a cart and was carted off the field.
The 31-year-old Betemit was slated to fill the Orioles’ designated hitter spot against right-handed pitching. A switch hitter, he compiled a .302/.357/.502 line against right-handers in 2012. He entered Monday's game against the Red Sox hitting just .194 (7-for-36) this spring, but was beginning to find his swing. In his past two games his was 3-for-5 with six RBIs and he drove in four runs — including a three-run homer — on Monday before leaving the game.
“He was really coming [along],” Showalter said.
Showalter said Betemit’s injury “sucked the energy out of the dugout” as players expressed concern for their teammate.
“It stole everybody’s attention, everybody was talking about it,” said reliever Pedro Strop, one of Betemit’s best friends on the team. “It’s tough to see one of your teammates (get hurt) and even more when you know how hard he worked for the 2013 season.”
Strop added, “It was hard for me because we are always talking in the offseason, we are in contact, and I know how hard he worked this offseason to get his swing ready and everything. He worked hard. He started working in December. He didn’t even want to play in winter ball because he wanted to prepare his body. For me it was hard to see him laying down there.”
Betemit — who signed to a two-year, $3.25 million deal before 2012 with a 2014 option — played in just five of the Orioles' final 48 games last season and missed the entire postseason with a right wrist injury. He initially missed three weeks and returned on September 1 only to reaggravate the injury 12 days later.
“It was tough, because that day I was really excited to be part of the team and go for the playoffs,” Betemit said Sunday. “And to have that happen to me, I was really down that day and then have to fly to Florida [for rehab]. It was really bad, really bad for me. I like to be with the team, so when that happened, it was really bad.”
Betemit's absence would leave a significant hole in the Orioles’ lineup and impact how the organization shaped its big league roster with one week until Opening Day.
Duquette said he’s satisfied with the team’s existing options in camp in seeking Betemit’s replacement.
“We do have some capable left-handed hitters and we also have some right-handed hitters who are capable power hitters,” Duquette said.
It essentially cements Ryan Flaherty’s spot with the club. Flaherty, last year's Rule 5 pick, was competing for a utility position role, and now his ability to play first base, third base and the outfield as well as provide an additional left-handed bat make him a likely fit.
It also opens a reserve spot for players like Steve Pearce, Conor Jackson and Lew Ford — all of whom have had solid springs as non-roster invitees.
But on Monday, the sentiment was with Betemit, who is respected throughout the Orioles clubhouse as a hard-working veteran.
“We hope for the best for Willie,” first baseman Chris Davis said. “I didn’t see what happened. I saw what happened after the fact and it didn’t look good. I think it’s a reminder that as long as you’re going hard and leaving everything on the field, there’s no regrets and that’s the way Wilson plays.”