FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Pat Dobson are weeks away from deciding how to line up their rotation for the first weeks of the season. But Dobson said yesterday the Orioles may go with a four-man rotation early, to keep the top four starters -- Mike Mussina, David Wells, Scott Erickson and Kent Mercker -- throwing on four days' rest through the early part of the schedule.
The Orioles have a number of days off in the early weeks, and rather than attempt to find starts for a fifth pitcher (Jimmy Haynes, in all likelihood), Johnson and Dobson may use the No. 5 man as a reliever early in the season. Or, they may keep an extra reliever and send the projected No. 5 starter to Triple-A for regular work.
"There are a lot of different ways we could go," Dobson said. "We want to keep our guys [in the rotation] on as regular a schedule as possible."
Mussina likely will start the season opener against Kansas City, followed by Wells. Logic suggests Erickson will start the third game, because in the fourth game of the year, the Orioles will be playing in Minnesota, on artificial surface, which gave Erickson and his sinkerball problems in the past. Mercker, then, would pitch the Minnesota series opener.
Mussina breezes in workout
Mussina was particularly sharp throwing batting practice yesterday. In his first workout a few days ago, Mussina had to stop after eight minutes. But in yesterday's workout, he threw 12 minutes and indicated to Johnson he could've thrown a whole lot more. "He said it was a breeze," Johnson said.
Mussina mixed in his knuckle-curve and changeups. During batting practice in spring, hitters are told before the pitch is thrown what they will see, so they can work on their timing. But Brady Anderson and Mussina agreed to have one session in which Anderson didn't know what pitches were being thrown.
Anderson watched several strikes zip by, then whacked a couple of liners to left.
Haynes, throwing his overhand curve for the first time this spring, had trouble getting control of it, but when he did, he buckled the knees of several hitters.
Mussina and Haynes will pitch in the first exhibition game Saturday.
Straight and narrow
Alan Mills and Arthur Rhodes, coming back from shoulder surgery, are looking so good that Dobson is considering using them in intrasquad games this week, with one stipulation -- they can only throw fastballs and changeups. No breaking pitches, which increase stress on the shoulder.
"I can get somebody out with a fastball," Mills said. Then he joked, "If I can't, I can do it by throwing at somebody."
Slow start for Surhoff
B. J. Surhoff, competing for the third base job with Bobby Bonilla, has looked uncomfortable taking grounders at the position. Surhoff, a terrific athlete, played shortstop in college, but is trying to play a position he didn't play at all in 1995.
"I'm not going to start drawing any conclusions before we're playing a game," said Johnson. "Bonilla has been over there more [in recent history], and he looks more natural. Talk to me in two weeks about third base."
In addition to the outfield and infield, Surhoff has caught for Milwaukee in the past, but Johnson says he has no plans to use Surhoff in that role. Surhoff batted .171 last season when he caught, far below his season average of .320.
Top prospect Rocky Coppinger continues to impress the staff. However, it's unlikely he'll make the team at the start of the season for a couple of reasons.
First, he's only had five starts above Double-A and some in the organization say he'll benefit from some more time in Triple-A. Secondly, if the Orioles wait until late May or early June, Coppinger probably won't be eligible for arbitration under the current rules un
til after the 1999 season.
If he starts this season with the Orioles and stays in the majors, he'd be eligible for arbitration after 1998.
Around the horn
Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles and wife Dana are expecting the birth of their first child in about a month. Ultrasound indicates the Hoileses will have a boy, and one possible name they are considering is Camden. As in Camden Yards. Dana Hoiles got the idea from the ballpark, Chris said, but at the moment, they are leaning toward Dalton. . . . Johnson acknowledged that Jeffrey Hammonds has struggled a bit taking batting practice against pitchers. "Hammonds is a little bit behind in his timing," he said. Nonetheless, he's looking at Hammonds as a starter in right or left field. "For me, the job is his to lose," Johnson said.
Reliever Armando Benitez is keeping his fastball down in the strike zone, but his slider has been erratic. Dobson plans to adjust Benitez's grip a little, thinking the pitcher's long fingers are making it hard for him to control the slider. . . . There was a frightening moment at the end of the workout. In his final swing of batting practice, Jarvis Brown smashed a line drive at a crowd of players gathering to do their post-workout sprints. Anderson had his back turned to home plate, and he never saw the ball that missed his head by only a foot or so. . . . The Orioles media guide is due out this week, with the cover illustration drawn by Mike Ricigliano, whose work appears weekly in The Sun. Media relations director John Maroon estimated 25 pages are devoted to Cal Ripken.