Mike the Mechanic clicks in final tuneup of spring Mussina not perfect, only scoreless for 6

April 03, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

The perfectionist in Mike Mussina would have preferred better numbers.

The realist in Mussina knew that on a day of slippery baseballs and sliding temperatures, there was no point in nit-picking.

The Orioles' precocious right-hander put the finishing touches on his methodically efficient spring yesterday. He threw six shutout innings in a 6-4 exhibition win over the Pittsburgh Pirates that welcomed the Orioles back to Camden Yards.

It wasn't Florida's 85 degrees, it wasn't Opening Day intensity, and it wasn't a sellout. But it was Baltimore, and the crowd of 20,412 was appreciative to have baseball back.

"It was more like real baseball," Mussina said after raising his spring training record to 2-0 and lowering his ERA to 1.67. "It was nice to be back in your own place, nice to be in your own clubhouse, nice to see your own fans.

"[But] it was an anticlimactic type thing. It was nice to sleep in my own bed. That was the best part of it."

Mussina gave up four hits and three walks in his final appearance of spring training. He struggled often with his rhythm and his mechanics. But, as is often the case when he struggles, he managed to keep the other team from scoring.

"Things were not A-No. 1," he said of his performance, "but they weren't terrible, either.

"I got my work in. I could have gone longer if it was a real game situation. We had some other guys who had to get some work in, and there was a pitch count. They [the coaches] felt six innings was enough. That was fine with me."

In six spring starts and 27 innings, Mussina gave up 25 hits and struck out 14. The three walks yesterday matched his total of the previous 21 innings, a symptom of the chilly conditions.

"My hand was drying out quickly," he said. "It was the strangest thing, I'd grab the ball, and it'd feel different."

Mussina knows he can expect more of the same Wednesday night when he faces the Cleveland Indians in his first start.

An 18-game winner and All-Star a year ago in his first full season in the major leagues, Mussina went to spring training this year with little more on his mind than preparing himself. A year ago, he had to prove himself.

Now, many consider him to be the ace of a talented and deep staff that will send out Rick Sutcliffe in Monday's season opener.

"It's beneficial knowing you don't have to prove you can get people out in spring training," Mussina said. "To go from proving you can get people out to being the ace of the staff in some people's minds is a big jump.

"In my own opinion, I don't consider myself the ace of the staff. We have four or five starters who are as capable of winning 18 games as I am."

Pitching coach Dick Bosman said he did not discern a difference in Mussina in Florida this year.

"He's always been a tremendously confident pitcher," Bosman said. "He had a little better focus, a little better feel of what he had to do to get ready for the season."

This spring, Mussina's focus was on improving his repertoire.

"With him, his breaking balls were not real good early in the year last year," Bosman said. "He went April and May mostly with a fastball and changeup. We spent the spring fine-tuning his two curveballs. I'm happy with where they have been."

After finishing fourth in the American League's Cy Young balloting, after leading the majors with a winning percentage of .783, expectations for Mussina will be up in 1993. For the 24-year-old native of Williamsport, Pa., it is not a daunting position to be in.

"My expectations are realistic," he said. "I want to stay healthy, get every [pitching] turn.

"Living up to 18-5 in my own mind . . . I'm still my own toughest critic. I'm not worried about what other people's expectations are. If I win 18 again, I do. If I don't, if I win only 12, then I'd be disappointed because it's not what I think I'm capable of."

Manager Johnny Oates chuckled at the raised expectations after yesterday's game.

"He pitched six shutout innings,and we're saying that he struggled, that he rushed, that he was trying to be too fine.

"Other than that," Oates said with a telling grin, "he pitched fine."

Bosman says Mussina is still the same person he was a year ago.

"A guy will assert himself because of his personality," Bosman said. "You say a guy is a leader, or the ace of the staff, because of his performance over the long haul.

"Everybody recognizes Mike's abilities and accomplishments because he's beginning to do that. The rest comes with time.

"He's special. Very special."

Countdown to Opening Day

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Today

* Orioles exhibition game vs. Pittsburgh Pirates at RFK Stadium in Washington, 1:35 p.m. (approximately 16,000 tickets available)

* Baseball Gala at Camden Station, 8 p.m. Tickets are $125 each. For information, call (410) 727-1539.

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Monday * Opening Day: Orioles vs. Texas Rangers, 1:35 p.m. (sold out)

One to go

The Orioles are down to 26 players, with one more cut -- either Jeff Tackett or Mark Parent -- to make before Monday's opener. A look at who's left:

Pitchers (10)

Todd Frohwirth, Ben McDonald, Alan Mills, Mike Mussina, Gregg Olson, Jim Poole, Arthur Rhodes, Rick Sutcliffe, Fernando Valenzuela, Mark Williamson

Catchers (3)

Chris Hoiles, Mark Parent, Jeff Tackett

Infielders (7)

Glenn Davis, Leo Gomez, Tim Hulett, Mark McLemore, Harold Reynolds, Cal Ripken, David Segui

Outfielders (6)

Brady Anderson, Harold Baines, Mike Devereaux, Chito Martinez, Luis Mercedes, Sherman Obando

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