Oates delivers first pitch: Sutcliffe will open for O's

March 25, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Orioles manager Johnny Oate officially named right-hander Rick Sutcliffe to start against the Texas Rangers on Opening Day at Camden Yards.

The announcement came three days after it had become apparent that the spring rotation would allow Sutcliffe to open the season on April 5, but Oates said wanted to meet with each of his four starters before making the announcement.

Sutcliffe was not the obvious choice he was a year ago. Right-hander Mike Mussina had better statistics in 1992, but there were good reasons to give Sutcliffe an encore after his shutout in last year's opener.

"He's our leader, and the leader usually goes first," Oates said. "I talked with Mike three or four weeks ago and told him that if Rick had a good spring, Rick would be the starter.

"I would have no problem with either of them pitching Opening Day. The way I look at it, it is one of 37 starts. I think they look at it the same way."

Sutcliffe said he does not view it as just another game. He has reached the point in his career where an Opening Day assignment is a validation of his continued success, so he was grateful for the opportunity.

"It's a thrill," he said. "Opening Day is always exciting, but I guess at this stage in my career, I appreciate it a lot more than I probably did a few years ago.

"It's a thrill for me to hook up against their No. 1 guy. I always get a kick out of that."

It is hard to conceive of him appreciating it more than he did last year, when Oates handed him the ball after nearly two years of shoulder problems.

Sutcliffe beat the Cleveland Indians, 2-0, in the first regular-season game at Oriole Park.

"I think Johnny is looking at it with an 'if it's not broken, don't fix it' philosophy," Mussina said. "Sutt pitched well on Opening Day last year. We got off well. Ben [McDonald] and I got off to a good start. Why would he make a change?"

Mussina and Oates both said yesterday that Mussina has a 1-10 career record in first-game assignments, but that could not have been a serious strike against him. Those games were mostly at the schoolyard level.

The main rationale behind acquiring Sutcliffe for the 1992 season was to take pressure off the Orioles' young starters.

Sutcliffe took care of the Opening Day hype, and McDonald and Mussina each won their first five decisions. Oates is not one to mess with a winning formula, but he said that was not as significant a consideration this year.

"There was a reason why we brought Rick Sutcliffe here, and there's a reason why he's still here," Oates said, "but it's not as big as last year."

There figures to be less pressure on Sutcliffe this year. He had to deal with the hoopla surrounding the opening of Camden Yards in '92.

He also had to deal with the pressure of justifying Oates' confidence in him.

"There was more pressure on me than any other game ever," he said. "I knew if I screwed up, Johnny was on the hot seat. People would have thought he gave it to me because of our friendship.

"The way it turned out, maybe I need to go to the mound with that approach every time out."

Sutcliffe was 16-15 last season, but his leadership transcended his statistical production. Every other regular starter alluded to BTC the importance of his influence at some point during last season. Now, they are more than willing to let him take the first bow.

"It doesn't mean that I'm any better than any one of the other starters," Sutcliffe said. "Right now, Johnny's got four No. 1 guys. To me, that's a great situation for our ballclub to be in."

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