Sutcliffe saves best, for now, from Texas Oriole refuses to give Rangers an Opening Day sneak peek

March 27, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

ST.PETERSBURG, FLA — ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Rick Sutcliffe made the best of a bad situation yesterday. In the next three days, Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald will try to do the same.

The Texas Rangers are the last team Sutcliffe wanted to face in his next-to-last spring training outing. And not just because he thinks they have the toughest lineup he'll face all year.

Sutcliffe will be the Orioles' Opening Day starter against the Rangers a week from Monday, and even Kevin Kennedy, Texas' first-year manager, said yesterday's matchup in the Orioles' 5-4 victory will give the Rangers an edge.

"Some of these guys haven't seen him for a while, and I know I haven't seen him in a long time," Kennedy said. "I think it helps us."

However, the Rangers didn't take full advantage, playing only three regulars. And Sutcliffe also saved his best, throwing primarily fastballs so as not to give Texas too big an edge for the opener.

"They've got some guys who can hit," said Sutcliffe. "I don't know if there's a better offensive team that we'll face this year.

"Under the circumstances, you'd much rather face another team. Mussina and McDonald face somewhat the same situation in the next few days."

Mussina, who will pitch the second game of the season, goes against the Rangers and Nolan Ryan tomorrow, and McDonald, who will pitch the final game of the April 12-14 series in Texas (also against Ryan), faces the Rangers on Monday.

Sutcliffe became the first pitcher on the Orioles' staff to allow morethan two earned runs in a game when he gave up nine hits and all four Texas runs in seven innings yesterday. But he wasn't totally displeased with the results.

"It was my worst outing of the spring, but a lot of good things happened," said Sutcliffe. "I stretched my arm out to seven innings, and I could've gone out for the eighth. At this point that's encouraging, and a credit to our [spring training] program.

"If you throw 46,000 people at Oriole Park into the mix, and get the adrenalin flowing, then I think you could go out for the ninth inning, too."

The damage against Sutcliffe resulted from two pitches. David Hulsehit a triple over the head of Mike Devereaux in center field to set up a run in the third, and Juan Gonzalez -- one of the regulars along with Ivan Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro -- hit a three-run homer to left two innings later. Both were aided by a strong wind.

"You never like to give up home runs," said Sutcliffe, who was halfway to the dugout on Hulse's two-out hit, "but I thought both of those balls were pop flies.

"Gonzalez wasn't going to see anything but fastballs. On Opening Day, we'll see if we can't throw some other pitches.

"I threw a lot of curveballs and changeups -- but not to the hitters who will be in the [Opening Day] lineup," he said. "Hitters like to see the spin on your breaking ball, so I tried to throw it only to the guys I figured I won't be facing [Opening Day]."

After his fourth outing of the spring (he had one start canceled because of bad weather), Sutcliffe said he figured he was at about the same point he was this time a year ago -- when he was preparing to pitch the first game at Camden Yards.

"My guess is the numbers are about the same, and I feel about the same," he said.

"My velocity was probably only in the low 80s, but I'll turn that up the next time out. That game will be against a National League team [St. Louis on Wednesday] and we'll be able to work on a lot more things.

"I didn't use my hard slider at all today [yesterday], and that's my out pitch. The next time I won't have to hold anything back."

Sutcliffe has given up 25 hits and seven earned runs in 20 2/3 innings this spring (3.05 ERA). Numbers may have been important last year when he was trying to prove he was sound, but they are meaningless to Sutcliffe now.

"All I'm worried about now is stretching myself out to get ready for Opening Day," he said.

And he figures one more start will put him where he wants to be.

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