SEATTLE -- The Baltimore Orioles have been careful not to rush 1990 first-round draft choice Mike Mussina to the major leagues, but his time apparently has arrived.
The club recalled him from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings yesterday along with a pair of young relievers to replace veterans Jeff Ballard, Jeff Robinson and Paul Kilgus, who were the victims of a pitching purge.
Mussina will make his first major-league start against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday at Comiskey Park, little more than a year after the Orioles made him the 20th choice overall in the June draft.
"Our minor-league people say he's pitching very consistently now," said manager John Oates. "He's healthy, and he's pitched enough innings that they think he's ready to play here. The stamina is there. He has built that up. I'm just looking forward to seeing him pitch on Sunday."
There was sentiment before the 1991 season began that Mussina was ready to join the major-league staff. In retrospect, he probably would have been as effective as anyone who opened the season in the Orioles rotation, but the club was concerned that his development might be inhibited by an early arrival in the big leagues.
So, Mussina spent the first four months of the season with the Red Wings, running up a 10-4 record and a 2.87 ERA. He is tied for the International League lead in victories, ranks second in ERA and is second in strikeouts (107).
He pitched a five-hit shutout Monday night against the Columbus Clippers and learned early yesterday that he would be making his next start in an Orioles uniform.
"After last night I feel pretty good," Mussina said. "I just have to do the same things. I had the best breaking ball I had all season. I just have to try to remember how I did it.
"I feel bad for him [Ballard]. Not just that he's having a bad year, but they're going to move him down here. I didn't have any intention of taking his job; I just wanted a job.
"I'll be nervous later when I get on the plane and get there.
The Orioles hope he can pick up right where he left off in the minor leagues, where he won eight of his last nine decisions. In 30 starts over the past two seasons, he went 13-4 with a 2.43 ERA and held the opposition to no earned runs 10 times.
Mussina is the point man in the latest phase of the Orioles youth movement. Relievers Jim Poole and Stacy Jones also have been added to the pitching staff, though neither comes with the same kind of advance billing.
The three have been pitching well for weeks, but club president Larry Lucchino said that the team was waiting for the right time to make the roster moves.
"You want to be sure to give the people here a fair chance to show what they can do," he said. "Now, it's time to give these young players a chance to show what they can do."
Still hope for Ballard
Lucchino said yesterday that he hopes that Ballard will be able to find himself at the Class AAA level and return to the Orioles rotation.
"There's still time for him to straighten himself out," Lucchino said. "[Bob] Milacki went back for a few weeks and helped himself. We're hoping that Jose Mesa can do the same thing. We just could no longer afford to give him [Ballard] the innings he needed to get straightened out."
Bill Ripken, who has been recovering from a strained muscle (( in his rib cage, became eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list yesterday and could return to action this weekend.
Ripken took batting practice yesterday and worked out lightly at second base before the game, but has not done anything at full speed yet.
"Today was the first day I hit off the batting practice pitcher," he said. "I would say that I could play now, but tomorrow will be an important day as far as how I feel after this workout."
Monday night in review
The Seattle Mariners scored seven runs in the seventh inning to blow out the Orioles, 11-4, in the series opener at the Kingdome.
Milacki recovered from a three-run first inning to work into the seventh, but Ballard and Kilgus combined to give up four straight doubles and turn a 4-4 game into a blowout.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Alvin Davis drove in three runs apiece to help right-hander Erik Hanson improve to 6-5 with an eight-inning performance in which he gave up eight hits.
Milacki got some offensive help from an unexpected source -- Juan Bell hit his first major-league home run in the third inning -- but the game unraveled after Oates went to his bullpen.