CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Righthander Ben McDonald may have a surprise up his sleeve next week when he makes his first start of the regular season. He has been experimenting with a forkball for the past couple of years, and it may be part of his pitching repertoire when he faces the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.
"I'd like to have thrown a few more of them this spring," McDonald said, "but I've got my three main pitches working right now. It's coming."
He isn't really giving away any secrets, because he isn't saying when he will unveil his newest weapon. That could be unsettling for American League hitters, because McDonald has a pretty good chance of getting people out as it is. He can be
overpowering with just his fastball, a changeup and a curveball he can throw at a couple of speeds, so an effective forkball would complicate matters for batters.
His forkball still is in the developmental stages, but McDonald said the club's catchers are prepared to call for it when the situation warrants.
"I probably won't use it much if I have a good curveball," he said, "because that's an out pitch right there. I'd like to use it first in a game where we've got a lead. I don't want to be trying it out in a 1-0 game."
* STILL PERFECT: Righthander Jose Mesa did not let up yesterday. He came into the club's final Grapefruit League game with a string of 20 scoreless innings at various levels of exhibition play and stayed on top of his game in the Orioles' 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Jack Russell Stadium.
He held the Phillies to one hit over four innings to finish the spring without giving up a run. He left the game with a 1-0 lead.
Mesa pitched 13 innings and gave up nine hits against "A" competition. He also pitched six shutout innings in a minor-league game last week and combined with reliever Alan Mills to pitch a perfect game in "B" competition. That adds up to no runs and 13 hits in 24 innings, helping him work his way into the fifth spot in the Orioles' rotation.
He will work out of the bullpen during the opening series against the Indians before entering the rotation on April 12 to pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays at SkyDome in the final game of the first road series.
* OATES ON POOLE: Manager John Oates isn't saying that Jim Poole's sore shoulder is a result of not working out enough during the offseason, but he did wonder aloud yesterday whether that played a role in the injury.
"It might be a coincidence, but the one guy who didn't work out over the winter is the one guy who's hurt," he said.
That comment was part of a general statement on the excellent overall health of the pitching staff this spring. Poole and the recently departed Eric Hetzel were the only pitchers who missed significant playing time this spring because of injury.
"I've always felt that baseball is a 12-month job," Oates said. "I think it's important to throw three times a week during the winter. It must be quite a shock to your body to do something for six months straight, then stop completely and then try to start it up again."
* MILACKI TODAY: Righthander Bob Milacki was scheduled to have made his final start of the spring today when the Orioles met the New York Mets in the first game played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Milacki made six starts in Grapefruit League play and was 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA. He figured to work seven innings in his final exhibition before he makes his 1992 regular-season debut Wednesday.
* SCHILLING DEALT: The Phillies traded righthanded pitcher Jason Grimsley to the Houston Astros yesterday for former Orioles reliever Curt Schilling.
Schilling, who was sent to the Astros in the deal that brought Glenn Davis to Baltimore last offseason, began the 1991 season as the Astros' bullpen stopper, but could not hold the job. He will join the Phillies on Sunday for their exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at RFK Stadium.