CLEVELAND -- Manager Johnny Oates went against his instincts when he allowed starter Mike Mussina throw 138 pitches in his most recent start, so don't look for the same thing to happen when the young right-hander takes the mound today against the Cleveland Indians.
Mussina was allowed to extend himself Friday in Detroit because the Orioles had a big lead and because he was going for his first major-league shutout. If the score had been 6-1 instead of 6-0, he would not have taken the mound for the ninth inning.
"I just don't like guys throwing that many pitches," Oates said yesterday. "I don't have any medical proof that it hurts a pitcher to throw that many. It's just a feeling. I don't think it can be beneficial for a pitcher to throw 135 pitches on a regular basis."
Orioles pitchers have gone past 120 pitches only a handful of times this year. Oates was hesitant to allow Mussina to do it so soon after hemissed a start because of illness, but he didn't want to deny him the chance to complete the shutout.
"I can't sacrifice the success of the team for an individual accomplishment," Oates said, "but I realize there are certain things that players play for, and you allow them to if you can. I had a situation when Cal [Ripken] had his hitting streak where I put the hit-and-run on during his last at-bat, then decided to take it off because I didn't want to take the bat out of his hands. We were ahead. I didn't think it would affect the team, so I wanted to give him every opportunity to keep it going."
Mussina apparently experienced no ill effects from the extended outing. Pitching coach Dick Bosman questioned him the following day to make sure he had no unusual soreness. Mussina threw well in his in-between workout. But Oates will monitor him closely today when he faces Charles Nagy (8-3) in the series finale.
"I'll be watching him," Oates said.
"We're in uncharted water."
Oates is conservative when it comes to the health and well-being of his pitching staff. He monitors the pitching schedules very carefully, keeping track of the number of pitches thrown by each pitcher in each game. He obviously is not inflexible, but he won't apologize for being overprotective.
"I think you can get away with it once in a while," he said, "but if you make a pitcher do it regularly, it has to diminish his performance. It's got to wear on him, over the year and over his career. I think that was Fernando Valenzuela's problem. I couldn't prove it. I just think so."
For the first time this year, the Orioles have reason to doubt whether they can bridge the gap between their starting pitchers and stopper Gregg Olson.
Oates admitted that he did have a situation on Monday night when he normally would have brought in Mike Flanagan, but chose not to because of his recent problems.
"I could have brought Flanny in to face [Paul] Sorrento," he said. "I figured they'd hit Carlos Martinez, who's 0-for-9 against Mike, but I just didn't think that was the time to put him back in there."
Frank talk with Hammonds
Orioles assistant GM Frank Robinson took No. 1 draft choice Jeffrey Hammonds aside for a little private conversation before yesterday's exhibition game between Team USA and the Nicaraguan National Team at Cleveland Stadium. But he didn't get away without an admonition from Team USA coach Ron Fraser.
"Hey Frank," Fraser said, "just be sure you bring him back in the same uniform."
Second base platoon revisited
Mark McLemore has been conspicuous by his regular absence from the starting lineup, but Oates said it is not because of anything McLemore has done wrong.
"[Bill Ripken has] been doing a good job defensively and we've been winning," Oates said. "Right now, I like having Mack on the bench to pinch-run for me, because we have five or six guys I can use a runner for if a situation arrives in the late innings."