ATLANTA -- The Orioles headed north last night with an outlook similar to the one they took south in February.
Their biggest area of concern remains pitching.
The Orioles' 7-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves yesterday at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium dropped their exhibition record to and lifted their staff ERA to 5.12.
"The bottom line when you look at our ballclub is we've got to get people out," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "Nothing has changed there. And if we're healthy, we should be able to do that."
The if, though not big enough to send Oates into a panic, lingers as the Orioles head into today's exhibition finale against the Philadelphia Phillies at Camden Yards.
Ifs can be found in the rotation and the bullpen.
Left-hander Sid Fernandez, scheduled to come off the disabled list April 17 in time for a start at Texas, first must get through two batting-practice assignments and two minor-league starts. He reported no shoulder discomfort in his first two workouts throwing off a mound.
Ben McDonald, scheduled to start yesterday's exhibition against the Braves, will test his tender elbow during the Orioles' workout tomorrow. McDonald said he is certain he will make his first scheduled start of the season Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals.
Opening Day starter Mike Mussina's fastball recently was clocked at 92 mph on the faster of the two guns scouts use, a strong indication his shaky spring (6.75 ERA), though cause for concern, is not cause for alarm.
"We'll work it out," Mussina said after allowing 10 hits and six runs in six innings in his final tuneup.
Mussina apparently convinced himself he regained arm strength that he lost with shoulder troubles in the second half of last season. Now, he seeks to recapture the pitching mechanics that led to an 18-5 season in 1992.
McDonald (2-0, 2.42) and today's starter, left-hander Jamie Moyer (1-2, 4.12), had strong springs. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes (1-0, 4.05) survived fits of wildness to solidify his spot in the rotation.
Out of the bullpen, left-hander Brad Pennington complained of routine spring training "dead arm" late in the week. Right-hander Alan Mills has been treated for back soreness and was scratched from a scheduled start in Atlanta.
Pennington is scheduled to pitch two innings today, Mills one.
"We've got some battle scars," Oates said. "You can't even call them that, really. Fernandez says it's nothing. Ben says it's nothing. Mills says it's nothing. Hopefully, all the nagging injuries we've got on our staff will be alleviated with a couple of days' rest."
Closer Lee Smith (0-1, 6.75) remained healthy through the spring. He didn't encounter impressive results, but didn't send Oates searching for Plan B, either.
Behind Smith in the bullpen, the Orioles will open the season with left-handers Jim Poole and Pennington and right-handers Mills and Mark Eichhorn. Either veteran Mark Williamson or rookie Mike Oquist will fill the long relief role.
Overall, Oates expressed satisfaction with how things went.
"It was fast-moving," Oates said. "We got some work done and got our veteran ballclub ready to play. When you have a veteran ballclub, you are not so intent on reading accomplishments. Are you going to go by what they've done in four weeks of spring training or by what they've done in eight years in the big leagues? I have a tendency to go by what they've done in the big leagues.
"We had a chance to come together as a team and get to know each other. It's been a good spring."
General manager Roland Hemond spent the early weeks of spring training attempting to acquire pitching depth. He found his counterparts doing the same.
"If you faxed that question to every club, you would get the same response," Hemond said.