ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- After a superb first half in his first full season at the AAA level, Rochester Red Wings pitcher Mike Mussina is just waiting to get the call from Baltimore.
His numbers are hard to ignore. In 15 games, he has a record of 7-3. His earned run average is 2.86, and he has 80 strikeouts and 25 walks in 94 innings. Mussina, 22, was the Orioles' first-round draft pick in June 1990.
But another Wings pitcher has matched Mussina with a top-notch performance.
Israel Sanchez, a 27-year-old free agent signed out of the Kansas City Royals' organization this year, has put together a record of 6-2 with a 2.86 ERA. He has 64 strikeouts and 28 walks in 78 innings.
At one point in late June, Sanchez was 5-0 in six starts with a 2.30 ERA.
"I am bouncing back," said the native of Cuba who grew up in Chicago.
Sanchez missed most of the 1989 season and part of 1990 with arm problems that required two operations. The Royals brought him back too soon, he said, and then put him in the bullpen where he had to throw every day.
"My arm was dead. There was no way I was ready," he said. They gave up on me and I honestly thought I just wasn't ready."
Sanchez had a record of 52-47 in Kansas City's minor-league system. He was 3-2 with the Royals.
"We wondered what he had left after surgery," said Wings pitching coach Dick Bosman. "He has worked very hard and he's pitching well. He changes speeds very well. He has a good sinker. His fastball gets to about 85 mph and he can force it inside on hitters."
Sanchez said Bosman has worked with him on a slider as an extra pitch again righthanded hitters. He's also learning a changeup.
"I have four complete games. My arm is strong. I've learned two new pitches. This is no fluke," Sanchez said. "I'm working on weights and my velocity has come back to what it was before the surgery," he said.
The performance of Wings relief pitcher Stacy Jones also seems for real. Jones is 4-0 with a 2.16 ERA. He has three saves, 37 strikeouts and 11 walks in 33 innings since coming up from Double A Hagerstown.
The season's halfway point marks a solid performance by outfielder Luis Mercedes, whose .313 average places him among the league's top five hitters. Mercedes, whose conflicts with management resulted in a suspension earlier this year, has 73 hits in 67 games. His on-base percentage of .442 shows his potential as a leadoff hitter, though he has struck out 40 times.
Outfielder Scott Meadows has kept his average above .300 since he came up from Hagerstown in May. He reached the halfway point with a .331 average (47-for-142) and 27 RBIs.He has an impressive on-base percentage of .448.
Utility infielder Tommy Shields also has put together a good half-season.Shields who played with the Buffalo Bison last year has a .284 average with 71 hits in 73 games and 34 RBIs.
@ HAGERSTOWN -- Ed Yacopino, released by the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization and then signed by the Orioles, was saluted as Eastern League Player of the Week after swinging a .522 bat and driving in eight runs for the week ending July 7. His two-out, two-run double in the ninth gave the Suns a 4-3 win over London.
The Suns, who won six of seven before the All-Star break, resume play with a four-game series at home against Albany starting tonight. They'll then play 22 of their next 26 on the road and finish with 20 of 25 at home.
Stacey Burdick has won seven straight decisions since his only loss April 27 . . . In his last 18 appearances Todd Steffen is 4-0 with four saves and a 1.35 ERA . . . Daryl Moore,a 6-foot-5 lefthander,struck out nine of 12 batters over four appearances . . . Rod Lofton has swung a .385 bat since a 17-for -108 start.
FREDERICK KEYS (SINGLE A)
FREDERICK -- Chuck Ricci, who hadn't won since June 2, ended his five-game losing streak and raised his record to 7-8 by beating Salem, 7-6.
Zachary Kerr, who won a club-record 14 games last year, was released after compiling a 2-4 record and a 5.04 ERA. He got a late start because of shoulder problems.
Infielder Keith Kessinger, batting .179, was traded to the Cincinnati Reds' organization and was replaced by Brad Tyler. Promoted from Kane County of the Midwest League,Tyler is now the regular second baseman.
The Carolina League All-Star Game will be played here July 24 ... Durham leads Class A teams with an average home attendance of 4,661, followed by two Oriole affiliates - the Keys ( 3,951) and Kane County of the Midwest League (3,882).
BLUEFIELD ORIOLES (ROOKIE LEAGUE)
BLUEFIELD, W. Va. -- It's a long road from the rookie leagues to Baltimore, and outfielder Clayton Byrne already has come a long way -- from Perth, Australia. Byrne, who joined Bluefield from Single A Kane County last Thursday, singled the first pitch he saw in the Appalachian League and hit .435 in his first five games.