Shaky Mussina gets opening nod

March 21, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Mike Mussina's spring stayed on the bittersweet side yesterday, when Orioles manager Johnny Oates announced he will be the Opening Day starter April 4 at Camden Yards against the Kansas City Royals.

"It's kind of ironic," Mussina said. "It's been my worst spring so far, and I'm going to get to pitch my first Opening Day."

Mussina, secretly told of the honor two weeks ago by Oates, pitched five innings in yesterday's 8-6 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies and allowed four earned runs on eight hits. He struck out three and did not walk a batter.

"Just about everyone here has pitched better than I have this spring," Mussina said. "I may never get another chance to pitch an Opening Day, so hopefully I'll make this a memorable one."

On the encouraging side, Mussina said he is unburdened by the shoulder troubles that dogged him in the final months of last season. On the discouraging side, his Grapefruit League ERA stepped up to 7.07.

"I'm beyond worrying about the physical part," Mussina said. "I feel fine, but how you feel doesn't necessarily dictate success. You can feel great and give up 10 runs, or you can feel average and throw seven shutout innings. Baseball is a bottom-line game. I have to get more guys out."

Mussina is scheduled to make two more spring starts. He was working under a 70-pitch limit yesterday.

"I was throwing as well in the fifth as the first, and I felt like I could have gone back out there," Mussina said. "Hopefully, I can go six next time."

If Oates were worried about Mussina's performance, it didn't show,

"He was OK," Oates said. "He got his work in. I don't think we're going to send him out or anything."

Mussina said he was more disappointed the past two springs at hearing he would not get the Opening Day start than he was uplifted by this spring's news.

Ben McDonald can relate. McDonald, 13-14 with a 3.39 ERA in 34 starts last season, is 1-0, 2.45 this spring. Mussina went 14-6, 4.46 last season, when shoulder soreness and lower-back pain sidelined him for six weeks.

"I'm not upset, just a little disappointed," McDonald said. "Everybody would love to be the Opening Day starter. I had a good year last year, and I felt like I deserved to be the Opening Day starter. It's usually the guy who had the best year the year before, but Mike won 18 games in '92 and [Rick Sutcliffe] still got the start.

"It's something I definitely want to do a few times before my career is over. I felt [Mussina] deserved to start last year and didn't get the chance."

Asked how he arrived at his decision, Oates said he flipped an imaginary coin.

"You can't go wrong with either one of those guys," Oates said. "Maybe if we are all here together another 10 years, we can alternate it every other year. Both deserve to pitch Opening Day."

Oates' pitching plans call for a four-man rotation until a fifth starter is needed April 17 at Texas.

McDonald is scheduled to pitch the second game of the Kansas City series, and Jamie Moyer is set to open the home series against the Texas Rangers. Two early days off enable Oates to bring back Mussina in the fourth game of the season. He will be backed up by Arthur Rhodes, McDonald and Moyer, the rotation through the first two weeks.

The fifth starter to be named will fit between McDonald and Moyer.

Despite the Opening Day announcement, Mussina was not in a celebratory mood. He took news of teammate Todd Frohwirth's release harder than his own shaky outing.

Mussina quickly claimed the jersey and nameplate from Frohwirth's locker.

"That's the tough part of the business," Mussina said. "It's going to be tough going to the park every day and not having him to talk to, not being able to listen to him root for Indiana basketball and talk about how Bobby Knight is misunderstood.

"This is the first time I've really lost someone who has been a friend, someone who's been released or traded. It's something I'll have to get used to. . . . No roommate this year. It's Froh Dog or no dog."

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