SARASOTA, Fla. -- When Jose Mesa came to spring training he was penciled in as the Orioles' No. 2 starting pitcher. But the way things are going he might be hard pressed to claim the fifth spot in the rotation.
"Yes, I'm a little concerned about him," manager Frank Robinson admitted after Mesa gave up six hits and four earned runs in a 9-4 loss to the Mets yesterday. "He has been erratic. His control hasn't been good, he's getting behind the hitters too much."
Mesa pitched three innings yesterday after Dave Johnson, the loser, had been nicked for eight hits and five runs in the first four innings. Mesa, in his fourth appearance of the spring, did not have a strikeout, which is most unusual.
"He didn't have any pop," said Robinson. Mesa's two most previous outings, both mediocre, came in "B" squad games. Jeff Ballard, Mike Flanagan and Johnson appear to have moved ahead of Mesa in the competition for starting jobs.
Though his line wasn't pretty, Johnson's effort didn't affect Robinson as much as Mesa's did. "He threw the ball good for three innings, then he started to get it up and they hit him a little bit," said Robinson. Four of the Mets' runs off Johnson came in his last inning. He had allowed only three hits until then.
* MILACKI ON LINE: Bob Milacki will get a lot of attention tomorrow, when he faces the Minnesota Twins. The big righthander was impressive in his first outing, three scoreless innings, but has been the victim of the big inning in each of his last two appearances.
With Ballard showing signs of regaining his 1989 form, the Orioles are hoping their 1-2 pitching punch from that year can return to form. Milacki has been throwing the ball with authority, but his control has been spotty in his last two games.
* DESERT STORM TICKETS: The Orioles have finalized plans to donate 100,000 tickets for home games during 1991 to the service men and women who served in Operation Desert Storm, their families and those members of the military who provided support for the war effort.
The tickets will be made available for 34 weekday games. Club president Larry Lucchino said the idea originated with principal owner Eli Jacobs. "He felt that the Orioles should, in some small way, recognize the extraordinary efforts of our military men and women by inviting them to be our guests at Memorial Stadium," said Lucchino.
The tickets will be distributed by the morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) offices at military bases in the area. Military personnel are instructed to contact their base MWR office for details.
The 34 dates free tickets are available, with opponents in parentheses: April 10 (Chicago), April 29 (Seattle), April 30 (Seattle), May 1 (Seattle), May 15 & 16 (Oakland), May 27 & 29 (Cleveland), June 6 (Toronto), June 11 & 13 (Kansas City), June 17, 18 & 19 (Minnesota).
July 1 & 2 (Detroit), July 23 & 25 (California), Aug. 5, 6 & 8 (Milwaukee), Aug. 12 (Chicago), Aug. 13, 14 & 15 (Texas), Aug. 26 & 27 (Toronto), Sept. 9, 10 & 11 (New York), Sept. 12 (Cleveland), Sept. 23, 24 & 25 (Boston).
* THIS 'N THAT: Mike Devereaux, who appears to be putting a clamp on the leadoff spot in the Orioles' batting order, had a seven-game hit streak snapped in yesterday's loss.
Randy Milligan is 5-for-9 in his last three games. He has now played 23 innings in leftfield, including six yesterday, and has yet to record an official chance. His only activity has been running down base hits and returning them without incident to the infield.
Mike Flanagan has pitched the most innings among American Leaguers (12) without allowing an earned run.
Jeff Robinson has given up 11 unearned runs -- more than any Oriole pitcher allowed in the entire 1990 season.
Good news department: The Orioles' usually reliable defense was reliable yesterday, not being charged with an error. In their previous seven games, the Orioles (7-7) had committed 18 errors, leading to 19 unearned runs.
Ben McDonald, the TV kid, was scheduled to face Toronto this afternoon in a game to be televised by Home Team Sports and repeated this evening.
Ballard will face the Kansas City Royals Saturday (1:05) in a game that will be carried by WMAR-TV.