DETROIT -- Ben McDonald hasn't mastered the art of pitching in the big leagues just yet, but he has made a lot of progress in the art of survival.
A lot of the credit, he says, goes to Orioles manager Johnny Oates and pitching coach Dick Bosman.
"The most satisfying thing about this year is that I've been able to go out and pitch every fifth day," McDonald said last night, after he carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning of the Orioles' 7-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers. "I've got one more [start] to go and I'll have 35 for the year -- that's what I'm proudest of.
"A lot of it has to do with being healthy, but the biggest thing is being handled right," said McDonald (13-13), indirectly fingering ex-manager Frank Robinson and pitching coach Al Jackson for some of his past problems.
"Last year [spring training, 1991] I threw too many pitches too early -- 97 pitches the second time out isn't going to cut it.
"I think I've learned something each year about how to prepare myself in the off-season. But the biggest thing is being handled correctly. Johnny and Bos have done a great job."
Because he was on the disabled list three times the previous two years, McDonald carried a fragile tag into this season.
"I think it was a little too early to say he was injury-prone," said Oates. "He had the blister problem, and one time he pulled muscles in his side while he was warming up. I think you had to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"I've been saying all along that the best thing about Ben is that he has been able to take the ball without missing a start. I'm sure there's been days he hasn't felt good, but he's been able to go out and pitch."
McDonald confirmed that, physically, the season hasn't been completely routine. "I had the virus early in the year and lost 11 pounds, but I was still able to go out there," he said.
He also admitted, for the first time, that the blister problem that has bothered him in the past surfaced again almost a month ago.
"It popped up in Oakland [a 2-1 win Sept. 2 in which he pitched six innings]," said McDonald. "Tonight was the first time I've pitched without a Band-Aid since then.
"Maybe the game the other night [last Thursday, when he lasted only 1 2/3 innings in an 8-2 loss to Toronto] was a blessing in disguise. It gave the blister a chance to heal.
"Before that, I had to use a little [Band-Aid] strip to protect it. It was the only way I could pitch. It didn't help me any -- in fact that's probably why my control was off in some of those games -- but I couldn't pitch without it."
Last night, the Orioles came within one run of their total output in McDonald's previous five starts, giving him his first win since Aug. 12 [11-4 against Toronto]. He had lost six straight decisions and the Orioles had lost seven of his past eight starts.
"I almost forget what it felt like to win one," said McDonald, who nevertheless claimed his confidence wasn't shaken. "It would have been two years ago, maybe even last year.
"But I knew I was going out and throwing well for the most part. I felt pretty good about the way I was throwing -- but it just worked out that way. From talking to the veteran guys, I realize I can't control that part of the game [offense], I just have to concentrate on my part."
If there was an oddity about McDonald's performance last night, it was the fact that he had a 7-0 lead before he recorded a strikeout -- or allowed a hit. He finished with seven strikeouts, allowing four hits and one run in eight innings.
Dave Bergman, who had two of the hits off McDonald, broke up the no-hit bid with one out in the sixth. Successive hits by Mark Carreon, Bergman and Tony Phillips spoiled the shutout bid in the eighth.
"I was aware of it [the no-hitter], but I wasn't thinking about it," said McDonald. "To tell the truth, I didn't think my stuff was that good. I got away with some pitches that they popped up early in the game -- the other night, they [the Blue Jays] didn't miss.
"But my curveball came around in the fifth inning, and when I'm striking people out, it's usually when that pitch is working. Anytime I'm throwing the curve for strikes, I'm going to strike people out, because they can't just wait for the fastball. And if they're looking for the curve, then they can't catch up to the fastball."
McDonald also has added a slider to his pitching arsenal, and recently introduced a new pitch, the sinker. "I threw a few of them tonight," he said. "We're experimenting a little and adding as we go."
While McDonald was holding the Tigers in check, the Orioles were piling up runs against an old nemesis, Frank Tanana. They didn't exactly wear out the veteran left-hander -- several of their 12 hits were of the "seeing-eye" variety -- but they managed to score as many runs in the fifth inning (four) as they had in all but one of their previous 22 games.
Tim Hulett hit an opposite-field homer (No. 2) to start the scoring in the second, and later added an RBI single, also to right field.
Jeff Tackett added three hits and Mike Devereaux and Cal Ripken each chipped in with a pair. Tanana was charged with all of the runs before right-handers Eric King and Les Lancaster shut the door.