CLEVELAND -- If right-hander Ben McDonald pitches well in his minor-league start tonight, the Baltimore Orioles are going to have a difficult decision to make.
McDonald is tentatively scheduled to return to the major-league starting rotation Monday, though he will pitch only if he passes muster in tonight's game against the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs.
"We'll discuss it with everyone and look at the total picture," manager John Oates said. "If it's the recommendation that he start here, then he could start Monday against Detroit."
It will be a double-barreled discussion, since a decision to start McDonald must be accompanied by a decision on who will have to move out of the rotation to make room for him.
The Orioles aren't saying anything on that subject yet, and there is no clear-cut candidate for demotion or release. No one is pitching particularly well.
About the only thing that has been made clear is that it will not be right-hander Jose Mesa, who finally turned in a solid start Sunday to put a dent in a six-week slump.
Mesa has one of the best arms in the organization, and Oates has said that the club will stick with him as long as it takes to get him on the right track. He pitched five solid innings against the Kansas City Royals in the second game of the doubleheader, but remains winless since May 11.
Right-hander Jeff Robinson has three victories in his past 13 starts but figures to have some staying power. Jeff Ballard is the only pitcher on the staff who has given the club any kind of consistent innings lately. And Bob Milacki finally is starting to show signs that he can be the pitcher he was in 1989.
That leaves only right-hander Roy Smith, who -- at 3-1 -- has the best winning percentage of the bunch. You figure it out.
Johnson to minors?
Right-hander Dave Johnson probably will be sent on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment before he gets another shot at the starting rotation.
Johnson, who is rehabilitating a deeply strained groin muscle, will throw a three-inning simulated game tomorrow. If everything goes as planned, he'd probably be asked to make a series of starts in the minor leagues.
"We'll evaluate things after he throws," Oates said. "I think the normal thing to do is send him out to face some live hitting. He thinks he's ready to pitch in the big leagues, but Ben [McDonald] found out that it's a lot different than pitching in a simulated game."
Cleveland Indians pitcher Rod Nichols hit Joe Orsulak with a pitch in the top of the second, and Robinson plunked Chris James in the bottom of the inning, prompting a warning to both benches from plate umpire Terry Cooney.
Robinson appears to have become the Orioles enforcer. He drilled Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett last Wednesday and almost set off a bench-clearing brawl.
Shortstop Cal Ripken was hit on the helmet as he attempted to bunt leading off the fourth, but jogged to first unhurt. Sam Horn followed with his 11th homer.
Ripken stays hot
Ripken had his third consecutive multi-hit game last night, with a single in the fifth inning and a home run in the eighth to raise his league-leading average to .352.
Ripken leads the league with 34 multi-hit games, seven more than he had last year. He has eight hits in his past 15 at-bats since ending an 0-for-18 string Sunday.
Third baseman Leo Gomez, who sprained his right anklrunning the bases Saturday night in Kansas City, went in as a defensive replacement last night.
More Sunday in review
The doubleheader sweep by the Orioles on Sunday was their first since Sept. 7, 1989, and the club had not won an extra-inning game or scored a run in extra innings this year.
* Cal Ripken, Tim Hulett, Chris Hoiles, Juan Bell and Randy Milligan entered the doubleheader a combined 0-for-67. They batted a combined .477 in the two games, with two home runs and 11 RBI.