FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ben McDonald played soft toss yesterday without discomfort, but there is a strong possibility the righthander will need a rehabilitation assignment before making
his first start for the Orioles.
"He said he didn't feel anything," said pitching coach Al Jackson. "We'll do it again [soft toss] Friday and if everything is still OK, have him throw off a mound on Sunday."
Jackson was asked what the next step would be if McDonald passed the next two steps. "Get him in a game," said Jackson, who hastened to add it probably wouldn't be a big-league game.
McDonald has missed approximately 12 innings of spring training work, necessitating his giving up his scheduled Opening Day assignment. "We've got to make up as much of that work as possible," said Jackson. "It's possible a simulated game would help, but I don't believe in that as a substitute for pitching five or six innings."
Jackson hinted that McDonald could be returned to Florida, to pitch with the team the Orioles have participating in an extended spring training program. "That's what those programs are for," said Jackson. "They can pay for themselves if they help get a guy straightened out."
Such a program almost certainly would cause McDonald to miss two starts and most likely start the season on the disabled list. If McDonald is inactive, manager Frank Robinson said he would prefer to return north with only nine pitchers for the first two weeks of the season.
That would open a spot for an extra position player, probably David Segui, who has hit the ball sharply the last two weeks.
* MERCEDES GOES FOR (FINAL?) TUNEUP: Luis Mercedes, who has made a big impression during his stay in camp, was officially optioned to Rochester yesterday. Infielder-outfielder Jeff McKnight also was sent to the Red Wings as the Orioles trimmed their spring roster to 29 players.
Both Mercedes and McKnight will go north with the Orioles, then join the Triple A team next week.
Among the 29 players still in camp, three are non-roster invitees. Pitchers Paul Kilgus and Roy Smith are currently on the Rochester roster and trying to win the last spot on the Orioles' staff. Ernie Whitt, who has had an impressive spring, is expected to earn a spot as a third catcher and pinch hitter.
* PITCHING PROBABLES: Jose Mesa, who will start the second game of the season for the Orioles, faces the Yankees in his final tuneup tonight (7:35, ESPN, WBAL-AM 1090). Andy Hawkins, the loser in a 9-2 decision to Mesa last Saturday, will pitch for the Yankees.
Dave Johnson, who opens the season as the No. 3 man in the Orioles' rotation, will pitch against Danny Darwin and the Red Sox Saturday at Washington's RFK Stadium. Smith will pitch Sunday's game against the Red Sox.
* FRANK COMPETES AGAINST FRANK: Robinson should have the highest ratings on television tonight. While the Orioles-Yankees game is being shown on ESPN, Robinson will be making his acting debut on "The Cosby Show." The episode was taped during the winter.
Orioles radio announcer Ken Levine also will be in competition with himself tomorrow. The broadcast of the Yankees game clashes with the popular TV show "Cheers," a show for which Levine is a regular contributor as writer and editor.
* THIS 'N THAT: The Orioles put a very limited number of obstructed view tickets for Monday's opener on sale this morning, with a two-per-person limit. These tickets were returned by mail-order customers, so it's buyer beware.
Last night's game against Montreal was called after three innings with the Orioles leading 4-0. The game had been delayed twice by rain, but the crowd wasn't notified of the cancellation until a few minutes after the Orioles' bus had departed.