For starters, O's are hurting Mussina to miss today with calcium deposit

Coppinger put on DL

Elbow to idle ace for week

Coppinger regrets revealing shoulder pain

April 01, 1997|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

So much for a set rotation.

The Orioles' pitching staff, once among the least of manager Davey Johnson's concerns, has undergone a couple of significant changes, with two of the top four starters on the shelf.

Mike Mussina was scratched from today's Opening Day start because of a calcium deposit in his right elbow, and Rocky Coppinger was placed on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation of the right shoulder.

Left-hander Jimmy Key will start today against the Kansas City Royals, and Scott Kamieniecki will pitch Thursday in place of Key.

Scott Erickson, who has a slight groin strain, is scheduled to open the three-game series in Texas on Friday, followed by Shawn Boskie and Key. Mussina is scheduled to make his debut Monday afternoon in Kansas City.

Mussina said his elbow didn't bother him after pitching Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla., or after throwing on the side Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. But it began to stiffen after the flight home later that night, and was swollen Sunday. He was examined by team physician Michael Jacobs, who prescribed standard treatment and rest.

"The swelling is preventing a full range of motion, so we're going to get that out of there first and go on from there," said Mussina, who had made four straight Opening Day starts.

"I'm a little disappointed, but it's a long year and this is only one game. If missing this game means I'll be prepared for the other 34 or 35 starts, then you have to sacrifice some things.

"This is really unexpected to me because I've never had an elbow problem, ever. It's really strange."

Johnson said it's "nothing major at this point, but this is something we don't want to push. He could probably pitch Opening Day, but we feel this is the best thing, to bump him back."

General manager Pat Gillick said the club expects Mussina to miss only one start. "Guys who throw baseballs are going to have wear and tear. We're going to play it by ear," he said.

Coppinger struggled in two of his last three spring starts after pitching halfway into the exhibition season without giving up an earned run. He had a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings before Sunday, when he allowed five runs on seven hits, walked four, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch in an 11-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Camden Yards.

Coppinger, who will miss two starts, said that his shoulder bothered him before the first exhibition game, but he didn't say anything because similar pain last spring had subsided, and it didn't worsen this time.

He finally went to trainer Richie Bancells on Sunday -- the first time that he had made the injury public -- and had an MRI yesterday morning that was negative.

"That's what happens when you say things you shouldn't say. Then you get thrown on the DL," he said.

"I'm very disappointed. I know I could have pitched through it, but other people make the decisions and I have to live by it. You learn things in this game. I learned something valuable -- don't open your mouth if you don't want to face the consequences.

"I'm too young to try to fight it."

Gillick said he spoke to Coppinger, 23, about the pitcher's efforts to conceal the injury. "I told him it's not a very smart thing to do," he said.

"He has to understand there's a broader picture, a bigger picture."

Because Coppinger had said during the exhibition season that he wanted to work on his off-speed pitches, it was difficult to tell whether his reluctance to throw more fastballs was by design or because of a physical problem.

"I've been a little concerned over the last two or three starts," said Johnson, who will open the season with 12 pitchers, not the 13 he had hoped to have. "He didn't really pop the ball. The other time out, it was obvious his arm position is not where you'd like it to be. And then he admitted he had, at times during spring training, some discomfort in his shoulder, a dead feeling.

"He's just too valuable on this ballclub to push it right now. He has a great future. It has nothing to do with roster spots or whatever.

"There are other guys I'd do something with way before Rocky. But it's the prudent thing to do. I know Rocky doesn't want to miss a start, much less an inning, but we feel it's in his best interest."

Coppinger described the sensation as "a little deadening pain in your arm. It just kept bothering me and irritating me. I can't say it got worse, but it never get better. Some rest might do all right."

Key will be making his first meaningful start since winning the decisive Game 6 of the World Series for the New York Yankees.

"Hopefully, I can start my career off here in Baltimore on a good note," he said. "It's a little bit extra-special, there's no question. I'll be a little bit extra juiced-up."

Kamieniecki, healthy after two years of elbow problems, is the greatest beneficiary of the changes. He had lost out to Boskie for the job as fifth starter and was expected to work in long relief, barring a trade. Instead, he will pitch the second game of the season.

"I thought I'd get a chance to pitch sometime this year, just not as soon," he said. "You just never know."

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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