'Minor' elbow pain slows McDonald

March 31, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Ben McDonald has been scratched from tomorrow's scheduled start against the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton hTC County Stadium because of what he and club officials termed a mildly tender elbow.

"It's a very minor deal," McDonald said before excusing himself to undergo another examination from team orthopedist Dr. Michael Jacobs at the team hotel last night. "Very minor."

McDonald said he expects to make his first start of the regular season next Wednesday night at Camden Yards against Kansas City as scheduled in the Orioles' second game of the season.

McDonald is supposed to throw on the side Sunday in preparation for that start.

"We're just being extra cautious," Jacobs said. "We don't perceive it as being any sort of problem at this point in time."

No X-rays were taken and none are likely to be needed, Jacobs indicated.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates said McDonald would have made his regular turn in the rotation if the mild tenderness had occurred during the regular season.

"He's not feeling 100 percent and it's been recommended he not pitch in Atlanta," Oates said. "It's something that will be cleared up if he's given a couple of days off."

McDonald was prescribed anti-inflammatory medication.

"It's nothing, but it's just there," Oates said. "I'd like to get the 'just there' out of there. The doctor said he should be like new Sunday and I liked hearing 'like new.' "

McDonald said he felt something every fifth pitch or so during his last start, Sunday against St. Louis. He allowed one run on five hits, struck out five and walked two.

McDonald said he felt soreness the day after the start and again Tuesday while he warmed up between starts.

"He could pitch Friday if we needed him to, but we don't," Oates said.

McDonald has been the Orioles' most effective starter throughout the spring. He finished with a 2-0 record and 2.42 ERA in five starts. He walked seven and struck out 20 in 22 1/3 innings.

McDonald, 26, has not missed a start the past two years and has made 69 starts and averaged more than 220 innings during that time.

Originally scheduled to be the Orioles' Opening Day starter in 1991, McDonald opened the season on the disabled list with an elbow strain. He spent 48 of the first 83 days on the DL that season.

All parties concerned said McDonald's current tenderness is unrelated to any past elbow problems.

Despite McDonald's being pushed back two days, Mike Mussina's continued shaky results, and a team ERA of 5.00, Orioles pitching coach Dick Bosman appeared unshaken about the state of the pitching staff.

"I'm excited about them," Bosman said. "I'm really kind of excited about letting them out of the barn, so to speak. Let's play and see how they make out."

Mussina pitched six innings and allowed 10 hits and six earned runs in last night's 6-2 loss to the White Sox at Ed Smith Stadium.

Again, Mussina reported no physical discomfort.

"I think what's happened is somewhere in my mind I thought when the pain went away, the ability that was there before was going to come back automatically," Mussina said. "Naively, I thought that was going to happen. Obviously, it hasn't. Now that I have run out of spring for that to happen, I have to step up my progress."

While pitching in pain last season, Mussina changed his delivery to minimize the discomfort.

Now he finds himself searching for the old way of doing things.

"I changed my mechanics without even knowing it," he said. "I thought when the pain went away, the poor mechanics would go away. Obviously, that's not what happened."

In his final tuneup before Monday's Opening Day start against Kansas City, Mussina struck out five -- including Frank Thomas twice -- and walked one.

Lance Johnson hit a three-run home run to right off Mussina in the White Sox's three-run second.

Mussina can take solace in the knowledge he will arrive in Baltimore with his 6.75 ERA replaced by one that reads 0.00.

"Obviously, that helps psychologically," he said. "You can go out there and feel good about yourself. But you have to improve or they are going to beat you."

Behind Mussina and McDonald, the Orioles have left-handers Jamie Moyer (1-2, 4.12), Arthur Rhodes (1-0, 4.05) and Sid Fernandez, who opens the season on the disabled list and is expected to make his first start April 17.

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