SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ben McDonald got the word from manager Frank Robinson before he took the mound against the Chicago White Sox yesterday: Don't do too much too early.
So, McDonald took it easy and still pitched three shutout innings, holding the White Sox to two hits to lead the Baltimore Orioles to an 8-0 victory yesterday in the Grapefruit League opener for both clubs.
"I felt good," he said, "but I fell behind on the count a few times. I also had some trouble with my breaking ball, but that'll come."
Nobody expected him to be perfect in his first competitive appearance of 1991, but he came close anyway. McDonald retired the first eight batters he faced before giving up back-to-back singles to Ron Karkovice and Scott Fletcher in the third inning.
"I was just working on a couple of pitches," he said. "I didn't try to set up guys or anything. I was just trying to throw strikes." Robinson had cautioned him against risking a rerun of last spring, when a muscle strain in his side kept him from starting the season with the major-league club.
"Frank said, 'We got the full six weeks this time, so take it easy,' " McDonald said. "But you see a Tim Raines or a Frank Thomas out there and it's hard not to throw hard."
The Orioles pitching staff didn't let up after McDonald hit the showers. Right-hander Jose Mesa followed him to the mound and held the White Sox to one hit over the next three innings before giving way to Dave Johnson and Kevin Hickey, who completed the four-hit shutout.
The pitchers usually have the upper hand in the early stages of spring training, but Mesa has done nothing but impress the club since he joined it at the major-league level late last season.
His performance in seven late-season starts (3-2, 3.86 ERA) convinced the club that he would be a strong candidate for the five-man rotation in 1991. He remains a prominent candidate, but the acquisition of right-hander Jeff Robinson left the Orioles with more strong candidates than places to fill.
* First-game flashback: Designated hitter Sam Horn hit a towering three-run homer to right field in his first at-bat yesterday, bringing back memories of his Orioles debut on Opening Day in Kansas City, Mo., last year. Horn hit two three-run homers against the Royals to lead the Orioles to a 7-6 victory. This time, he drove a Jack McDowell fastball into a stiff breeze and still cleared the fence easily.
"I hit that ball extremely well," Horn said. "I know it's wrong, but I wish the wind had been blowing the other way so I could see how far it would have gone."
Horn also pulled a single down the right-field line in the third inning as he began his campaign for regular playing time.
"I want to play as much as possible, but I know that nobody is going to play every day," he said. "I like being on this team and I'll do whatever is best for the club."
* Former major-league pitchers Virgil Trucks and Bob Turley, the starters on the first Opening Day at Memorial Stadium (1954), were in attendance at yesterday's Grapefruit League opener as guests of the Orioles.
Trucks and Turley were brought in to do some promotional work leading up to the final Opening Day at Memorial Stadium.
* The Orioles' spring-training schedule includes a club-record 23 games against American League clubs. That is good news to newcomer Glenn Davis, who says he wants to see as much AL pitching as possible this spring.
* Pitching coach Al Jackson said left-hander Dan Boone faces incredible odds to make the club this year, but won't rule out the possibility.
"I know how he feels," Jackson said. "At one time, I was looked on the same way. I wasn't 150 pounds with bricks in my pockets. They would tell me I wasn't strong enough to go nine innings in the major leagues, and I had just finished pitching 225 in the minor leagues.
"But stranger things have happened. If he pitches well and doesn't make it here, maybe some other club will see him and want to give him a chance."