Mussina looks healthy on strict diet of fastballs OPENING DAY '94

INSIDE PITCH

April 05, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Throughout the season, Jim Henneman of The Sun's sports staff will offer his inside pitch -- an analytical look at the turning point in a particular Orioles game, a trend affecting the team or an important aspect of a player's performance. There was an obvious key to Mike Mussina's success yesterday. It arrived early, and at about 90 mph.

And if there are any lingering doubts about the right-hander's arm strength, he went a long way toward dismissing them in the first three innings. Until Mike Macfarlane broke the spell with a fourth-inning home run, just about every meaningful pitch Mussina made was a fastball.

Conventional wisdom says a pitcher can't survive in the major leagues with nothing more than a fastball, but Mussina came close -- especially in the first three innings. Of the 46 pitches he threw during that stretch, 37 were fastballs.

That might not work all the time, but it most likely was the reason Mussina logged eight quality innings.

"When you have a good fastball and you can pitch just out of the strike zone, you can do that," said Kansas City manager Hal McRae.

"He threw a lot of fastballs up. It's not the ideal way to pitch, but Jim Palmer did it for a lot of years, so it can be done. If you have a good one, you can get away with it."

About the time Macfarlane sent a misguided fastball into the left-field seats (it was supposed to be down and away and ended up high), Mussina was realizing he had to alter his style. "I said to myself I had to start doing something different; this wasn't how to pitch," he said.

The game plan didn't change, but the location did. Royals first baseman Wally Joyner said Mussina's off-speed pitches appeared about the same time the shadows started slipping over the playing field. But that was more appearance than fact.

"Actually, I think I threw more fastballs after the home run," said Mussina. "But I definitely started sinking the ball more after the shadows came into play."

The official pitch count on Mussina, kept by Ben McDonald, showed five changeups and 18 curveballs. Everything else was a fastball, but that, too, is a misnomer in the eyes of the man who called the pitches, catcher Chris Hoiles.

"He's got three different fastballs, and when you have that many, you tend to go with it more," said Hoiles. "He throws one that sinks and a cutter in addition to his regular one. So, when you just call it a fastball, it's a little misleading."

The bottom line was that power pitching got him through the first three innings. The finesse came later, when he retired 14 straight after Macfarlane's home run.

"Every time he had to make a pitch, it was with his fastball," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. That was especially true in the second, the only time Mussina faced a threat. With runners on second and third, he got Greg Gagne looking at a called third strike that shredded the outside corner -- after making the most important defensive play of the day.

The previous batter, Dave Henderson, hit a sharp bouncer through the middle that Mussina handled with a quick flip of the glove.

"That ball was hit hard, but he's a good athlete, and he made a good play," said McRae.

Mussina helped himself with his defense, but he ruled the day for one reason -- his ability to rely almost exclusively on the fastball, especially in those first three crucial innings.

JUST LIKE MIKE

Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina was hit hard during spring training, but he looked more like the Mussina of old in yesterday's opener against the Royals. Here's a game-by-game look at Mussina's six exhibition starts, followed by his performance yesterday:

Date .. .. ..Opp. .. ..Dec .. .IP .. .H .. ..ER

3/5 .. .. ...St.L .. ..ND .. ...3 .. .2 .. .. 2

3/10 .. .. ..NY-A .. ..ND .. ...3 .. .4 .. ...2

3/15 .. .. ..St.L .. ..ND .. ...4 .. .6 ... ..3

3/20 .. .. ..Phi. .. ...L .. ...5 .. .8 .. ...4

3/25 .. .. ..Minn. .. ..W .. ...5 2/3 ..10 .. ...3

3/30 .. .. ..Chi-A .. ..L .. ...6 .. 10 .. .. 6

Tot. .. .. .. .. .. ...1-2 .. .26 2/3 ..40 .. ..20

4/4 .. .. .. .K.C. .. ..W .. ...8 .. .2 .. ...1

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