Orioles rookie again shows staying power

September 01, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS C — MINNEAPOLIS -- The numbers don't always tell the whole story, especially when it is the story of a promising young pitcher in the first month of his major-league career.

The numbers say that rookie Mike Mussina has dropped four of his first six decisions, the latest a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins last night at the Metrodome.

The pitching line -- 6 1/3 innings, five runs, 10 hits -- says that Mussina didn't pitch very well. The bottom line says that a loss is a loss. But sometimes, you have to read between the lines.

Mussina continues to show why he stands so tall in the Orioles' long-term pitching plans. He dueled with Minnesota starter Kevin Tapani for six solid innings before the explosive Twins offense finally caught up to him.

Three runs in the seventh broke open a one-run game and forced Mussina off the mound, but nothing happened last night to shake the Orioles faith in his future.

"He still threw the ball well for me," said manager John Oates. "Seems like every time he goes out there we score one run for him. When we score two or three runs for him, we win."

Mussina might be 2-4 with a 4.38 ERA after six starts, but he has been overmatched by the opposition in only one of them, which isn't bad for a 22-year-old pitcher with little more than one year of professional experience.

"No doubt about it," Oates said, "it's a step forward. He's makes his pitches when he has to. Five of his six starts he's got us into the sixth inning, which is better than having guys come out in the third like we were earlier this year. He continues to throw well for me."

That is small consolation to Mussina, he apparently is a bottom-line kind of guy. He hasn't been here long, but he has been here long enough to know that winning is the most important thing.

"They didn't bring me up here to test me out for six games," Mussina said. "I came up here to win. I have good enough stuff to win. I just have to learn a little more about pitching. I made too TTC many mistakes because I don't know enough yet."

Tapani got the victory, his 13th of the year, and eighth in a row. Rick Aguilera got a share of the major-league lead with his 36th save after bailing setup man Steve Bedrosian out of a bases-loaded situation in the eighth. The game meant a lot more to the AL West-leading Twins than the Orioles, but it was another step in the right direction for the Orioles youth movement.

It had been one month to the day since the Orioles purchased Mussina's contract from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings (July 31). They are yet to have cause to regret that decision.

Mussina has made six major-league starts and has failed to work into the sixth inning in only one of them. He gave up just two earned runs over eight-plus innings against the Twins last Sunday at Memorial Stadium and held his own again last night.

But it never figured to be easy. The Twins are averaging nearly five runs per game and they are particularly tough at the cozy Metrodome, where a pitcher's mistake can disappear in a hurry. Mussina probably was aware of that when he handed a leadoff walk to Chili Davis in the second.

Davis leads the Twins with 26 home runs and 82 RBI, so who wouldn't want to pitch him carefully. But there are times when a leadoff walk can be as damaging as a bases-empty home run, and this was one of them. Brian Harper followed with a base hit that sent Davis to third and Minnesota took the lead when Shane Mack bounced into a force at second.

Mussina has averaged about two walks per nine innings in his 36 starts since signing a professional contract, but he walked Davis the first two times he faced him.

Cal Ripken brought the Orioles back in the third. After a leadoff double, he took third on a balk by Tapani before scoring the tying run on a delayed double play.

Randy Milligan, who had reached first on a one-out walk, froze on a slow chopper to second by Chito Martinez, forcing Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch to make his first play to first base. If Milligan had run out the ball, he probably would have been tagged out on the front end of the double play and the run would not have counted.

Mussina had runners on base in six of the seven innings, but he kept the ball down and the Orioles infield turned three double plays.

The Twins took the lead in the sixth when Rookie of the Year candidate Knoblauch pulled a line drive into the left-field bleachers for his first major-league home run.

"It was too good," Mussina said. "He hit it out so it must have been a mistake pitch. I don't think he's the type of hitter who can hit a nasty pitch out of the park. That's not his style."

Mussina also gave up hard-hit singles to Kirby Puckett and Davis later in the sixth, but got out of the inning without further damage.

5-2 loss isn't a total one for Mussina

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