DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Five pitchers were sent down from the Baltimore Orioles training camp yesterday, leaving 39 players.
Left-hander Mike Linskey and right-handers Francisco de la Rosa and Dave Martinez were optioned to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, and Mike Mussina and Joe Price were assigned to the minor-league camp in Sarasota.
Mussina and Price already were on the Red Wings roster.
Price "is in a situation where he's not eligible to pitch for us until May 1", said manager Frank Robinson, "so it's better that he go pitch now rather than squeeze in an inning here and there."
The left-hander was 3-4 with a 3.58 ERA for the 1990 Orioles, who did not pick up his option, then became a free agent. He was not re-signed by the team before the January cutoff date, so must wait until May 1 to return to the roster.
Mussina, the club's No. 1 draft choice last summer, gave up nine hits and six runs in three innings to the New York Yankees on Tuesday.
"But a couple of balls should have been caught when he was pitching, and after that everything went downhill on him," said Robinson.
The manager said Linskey (Loyola High) and de la Rosa "need more time" and that he likes what he saw of Martinez, but it wasn't enough.
"It's time to get some of our other pitchers stretched out."
* Robinson has been impressed by Luis Mercedes, who has won two successive minor-league batting titles in the Orioles organization.
"I think he may be a little closer to the majors than people think," said Robinson. "He'll be in Triple-A this year, and we'll see how he handles that."
The hitch is that Mercedes has spent only one season in the outfield after having some problems at second base, and will need time to adjust defensively.
"He had a lot to learn in center field [with the Class AA Hagerstown Suns] last year, so it might benefit him to play one of the off fields," said Robinson.
"One thing about him -- you don't have to remind him to run the ball out. He plays hard all the time. You have to get him to back off a little bit. This kid is a fine talent who is going to come fast because he can hit. He's knocking at the door."
In "A" and "B" games this spring, Mercedes is 14-for-40 (.350) with six walks and eight RBI.
He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of San Pedro de Macoris, a baseball hotbed in the Dominican Republic.
* Ben McDonald, the club's Opening Day pitcher, has been treated rudely in his past two starts, permitting nine runs and 11 hits in eight innings.
"I'm still off a little mechanically," he said. "I'm throwing across my body about four inches, and I'm having trouble getting to the outer portion of the plate."
He was restricted to four innings because Robinson wanted to look at some other pitchers yesterday, but continued to throw in the bullpen and estimated he threw 100 pitches.
The slight strain in his side "is coming around with treatment," said McDonald, who will have two more starts and some bullpen workouts before Opening Day.
"My curveball is not there yet. I throw a good one then a couple of bad ones. It's not consistent," he said.
* Randy Milligan did not make the trip yesterday after his ankle was swollen again after Wednesday's game against the Mets.
"He's played a lot in a short period of time," said Robinson. "It was time for a rest."
Milligan, 5-for-9 with four RBI in his past three games, still has not registered an outfield putout or assist in 23 innings.
* Jeff Ballard starts for the Orioles today against the Minnesota Twins in Sarasota, and Bob Milacki goes tomorrow in Haines City against the Kansas City Royals on Channel 2 . . . Bob Melvin has thrown out of four of five would-be base-stealers this spring . . . Four Orioles farm clubs launch their exhibition schedules today against White Sox affiliates. Rochester (Class AAA) plays Vancouver, Hagerstown meets Birmingham, the Class A Frederick Keys take on Sarasota, and Kane County, Ill. (Class A) faces South Bend . . .Opponents are hitting .119 against Mike Flanagan, who has thrown the most innings (12) in the American League without allowing an earned run . . . Cal Ripken had his third error of the spring on a high hopper by Eddie Zosky in the second inning. That equaled his total of the 1990 regular season. At the plate, Ripken is 10 for his past 13.