Mussina starts with caution flag Ace is likely to throw just five or six innings in delayed debut today

Orioles Notebook

April 06, 1997|By Peter Schmuck and Joe Strauss | Peter Schmuck and Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Right-hander Mike Mussina will make his first start of the 1997 season today at The Ballpark in Arlington, but don't expect him to be around for more than five or six innings.

Mussina, who was scratched from his Opening Day assignment with a swollen elbow, pitched as many as six innings only once in spring training. He figures to throw no more than 80 pitches today against the Texas Rangers, and he won't push it if he feels discomfort.

"I assume he [manager Davey Johnson] will be cautious," Mussina said last night. "If it bothers me at all, I'll be out. I'll let them know. The first week of April, it's not worth rushing, but I don't foresee any problem."

So far, so good. The inflammation was the result of a small bone spur in his elbow, but it subsided in a couple of days and Mussina threw on the side Thursday without experiencing soreness. He did not, however, throw any breaking pitches during that workout.

"I didn't want to risk a setback for any unnecessary reason," he said, "but it's not like I'm not going to throw my curveball because I didn't throw it on the side the other day."

Coppinger takes to mound

Right-hander Rocky Coppinger is scheduled to throw off the mound today for the first time since he was placed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. Coppinger has played catch a couple of times and reports no discomfort.

"I have felt no restriction," he said yesterday. "I felt fine [Friday] and I'm going to throw again [today]."

There is no reason for him to push it, either. He won't be eligible to come off the DL until April 15.

Alomar's return set

Rather than travel to Arlington only to be a spectator, second baseman Roberto Alomar will rejoin the team in Kansas City, where the Orioles begin a three-game series Monday afternoon. Alomar is serving a five-game suspension for spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck last season.

What happens then is up to Johnson. General manager Pat Gillick said Alomar's ankle should allow him to play immediately. Johnson then must decide where to insert Alomar in the batting order. Though he would not commit, Johnson seemed to be leaning toward putting him in the No. 2 hole, occupied by shortstop Mike Bordick for the first three games.

No fan of the sacrifice bunt, Johnson does not advocate a .300 hitter laying the ball down. However, Alomar is prone to doing so on his own depending on the situation.

"I like Robbie in the 2-hole with this personnel," Johnson said. "I never like Robbie to give up an at-bat. That's just the way he plays the game."

Webster and Walton start

Johnson made his first roster adjustments last night, starting Lenny Webster behind the plate and Jerome Walton in left field.

Webster had entered each of the three previous games as a defensive replacement. Walton received his first start since last May while with the Atlanta Braves.

"It's just baseball," Walton said. "You go out, have fun and do what you can. That's all."

Actually, it's a little more than that. Since being named 1989 National League Rookie of the Year, Walton has not received 300 at-bats in a season. He has averaged only 62 games the past three years.

The road from Atlanta to Baltimore has been long and frustrating for Walton, who batted .340 in 37 games with the Braves last year before a groin injury kept him on the disabled list for the season's last four months. Walton's condition was initially misdiagnosed as a hernia until he consulted with Dr. James Andrews.

"No one could tell me what was wrong. They thought it was a hernia but the treatment never took," Walton said. "I think at one point some people there questioned whether I wanted to play. That was never an issue with me."

This year he would appreciate his new start being injury-free.

"I've never gone an entire season without an injury," said Walton, who endured a hamstring pull during his rookie season. "It's always been something. I'm ready to play."

For Webster, the battle has long been with perceptions instead of injuries. The perennial backup catcher has never played more than 78 games in any of eight major-league seasons with three different organizations.

"It doesn't matter that I was MVP and an all-star in the minor leagues. Ever since I got [to the major leagues] I've been tagged as a backup. Obviously, I'd like to change that. But I don't control the situation," said Webster, MVP of the Midwest League in 1988.

Nasty O's

Right fielder Eric Davis said that the Orioles' bullpen is comparable with the "Nasty Boys" that helped carry the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series championship in 1990. Maybe better.

"They might be a little better because of the depth that you have here," Davis said. "That was a situation where you had three guys [Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers] and any one of them could save a game for you. We've got six guys who you could say that about."

Of course, the Orioles' bullpen has to prove that it can do the job all season, but if it continues to have the kind of success it has had during the first week of play, it will put a lot of pressure on the opposition and take some off the offensive lineup.

"In 1990, we played the game for six innings," Davis said. "Our whole concept was to have the lead after six innings. We would do anything we could to get the lead. Sacrifice whatever. When you have a bullpen like that, you can do that."

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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