Mussina says his pitch often was missed on Oates

October 01, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

In early July, when Mike Mussina asked for extra rest between starts, Johnny Oates said it was like E. F. Hutton talking.

The problem was, Oates didn't always listen.

"During the heat of the moment, your input was gone," Mussina said yesterday from his home in Montoursville, Pa. "You couldn't make suggestions, really.

"The communication was pretty lacking in the clubhouse. I think it went to an even lower level during the game."

Mussina, speaking publicly for the first time since Oates' firing, criticized his former manager for overworking him in a season when he was coming off shoulder and back trouble.

He also questioned whether pitching coach Dick Bosman effectively communicated the pitching staff's concerns to Oates, and endorsed his former teammate Mike Flanagan as Bosman's replacement.

Peter Angelos can relax.

He gets the day off.

Angelos' handling of Oates was disgraceful, but in our rush to tar and feather the owner, let's not forget one important thing.

Oates lost the confidence of his players.

That isn't the reason Angelos fired him, but people forget that Oates managed with a short-sighted, pedal-to-the-metal approach even before Angelos took over.

He played Brady Anderson to exhaustion in 1992, repeated the mistake with Mark McLemore and David Segui in '93 and had Chris Hoiles begging for days off in '94.

Which brings us to Mussina.

He's an ornery type who loves to tweak authority figures. It's the Jim Palmer syndrome -- he might never be happy with his manager.

But here's a surprise:

Palmer, the Hall of Famer who engaged in a running battle with Earl Weaver, believes Mussina's criticism of Oates is unfair.

"I thought Johnny did a good job handling Mike," Palmer said. "Did he do it perfectly? Of course not.

"He babied him early on, and Mike proved he was able to pitch. The bottom line is, if you're a money pitcher like Mike Mussina, you've got to accept responsibility late in the ballgame.

"You don't come out until you hand the ball to the closer."

Still, Mussina wasn't the only pitcher upset with Oates by the time the strike started Aug. 12. Even the happy-go-lucky Ben McDonald said this week that Oates had stopped communicating.

High pitch counts were a concern shared by the front office. General manager Roland Hemond raised the topic with Oates on occasion, assistant GM Frank Robinson said.

"It's not necessary for Ben and Mussina -- young arms -- to throw that many pitches. It has a negative effect on them, maybe not in that ballgame, maybe not in the next ballgame, but down the road."

Mussina, 25, required special care this season, and Oates knew it. The manager's plan coming out of spring training was to monitor his workload to ensure that he would remain healthy.

Oates believed that a 141-pitch outing against Detroit led to Mussina's injury problems in '93. He vowed never to extend his ace like that again.

As usual, Oates had the right idea. But in his desperation to win, he occasionally stretched Mussina, and later engaged in a struggle for control with his entire starting rotation.

Was all that Angelos' fault?

Take the final trip to Milwaukee, shortly before the strike began. On back-to-back nights, Ben McDonald threw 146 pitches in a one-hit shutout, and Arthur Rhodes 147 in a five-hit shutout.

The next day, Mussina had a 6-2 lead after eight innings. It was his 24th start, and he had thrown 117 pitches. Oates wanted him to finish. But Mussina told Bosman he was done, and Lee Smith pitched the ninth.

Earlier on the trip, Oates had ordered his starting pitchers to inform the media when they asked to leave a game, the better to establish accountability.

"It's a real fine line," Palmer said. "Weaver is probably going to the Hall of Fame, and he never cared about the pitch count. Earl thought about winning today and covering his butt the next day."

Mussina doesn't share that philosophy.

"They told me one thing in spring training, and then after the first four or five starts, it seemed like everything they told me -- 'We're going to watch you; we're not going to send you over 125 pitches' -- all of a sudden, in the heat of the moment, that stuff was eliminated," Mussina said.

"Although I was healthy, feeling good, throwing in the late innings, there was still a question mark -- why would you want to send me out for 130 when you know the next start is going to be terrible?"

Oates responded, "There's never been a number on it. Some nights you're done at 100. Some nights you're done at 130. After 120, I start watching you really close."

Mussina averaged 111 pitches per start. He twice threw more than 130 -- in a thrilling duel with Cleveland's Dennis Martinez at Camden Yards on May 6, and in an uneven performance at Oakland on July 22.

He also threw 129 in a critical Sunday afternoon victory at Yankee Stadium on May 22, a game in which Oates pulled him after six innings, a game that might have saved Oates' job.

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