The diet supplement ephedra was partly to blame for the heatstroke death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, a medical examiner said Thursday.
Toxicology tests confirmed that "significant amounts" of an over-the-counter supplement containing the herb led to the heatstroke, along with other factors, Broward County medical examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said.
The 23-year-old pitcher was taking the supplement to lose weight when he collapsed Feb. 16. He died the next day after his temperature rose to 108.
Perper said in a news release that the toxicology analysis showed ephedrine in Bechler's blood along with smaller amounts of two other stimulants, pseudoephedrine and caffeine.
That's consistent with taking three tablets of the supplement Xenadrine, Perper said.
Perper said he couldn't say whether Bechler would have died if he hadn't been taking ephedra. Among the other factors contributing to the heatstroke: Bechler was overweight and out of shape, was not accustomed to the humid weather in South Florida, and he had high blood pressure and abnormal liver functions.
"It is my professional opinion that the toxicity of ephedra played a significant role in the death of Mr. Bechler, although it's impossible to define mathematically the contribution of each one of the risk factors," Perper said.
Cytodyne Technologies, which makes Xenadrine, said the coroner rushed to judgment.
"The fact that the medical examiner found traces of ephedra in Mr. Bechler's system does not mean that Mr. Bechler died from ephedra. He died from heatstroke," said Shane Freedman, legal officer for the manufacturer.
ATHLETICS: Barry Zito will pitch the opener March 25 in Japan, and the AL Cy Young winner might pitch the opener at the Coliseum a week later. Zito, who went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA last season, got the nod from manager Ken Macha after throwing 91 pitches in an intrasquad game on a day off.
CARDINALS: Closer Jason Isringhausen is scheduled to throw batting practice today, his first time facing hitters since offseason shoulder surgery.
EXPOS: The league still hopes to decide the 2004 home of the team by the All-Star break. The committee on the Expos' future will hear presentations next week with groups from Washington, northern Virginia and Portland, Ore. Bob DuPuy, baseball's No. 2 official, said a timetable should emerge after those meetings.
INDIANS: Left-hander Brian Tallet was hit in the head by a line drive during an intrasquad game in Winter Haven but was not seriously injured. The 25-year-old was taken to a hospital for precautionary X-rays and released.
RANGERS: Alex Rodriguez returned to Texas for tests on his stiff left shoulder. He was expected to return to Arizona on Thursday night or today.
ROYALS: Centerfielder Carlos Beltran has a strained muscle on his right side and said he will miss one to two weeks.
TWINS: Left-hander Kenny Rogers passed his physical and finalized a $2-million, one-year contract.