Will Mussina start '97 finale or Game 1? If AL East still undecided, Johnson faces a decision

Orioles Notebook

September 20, 1997|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Though the Orioles have theoretically set their postseason rotation, the club needs to clinch the division before next weekend in order to preserve it.

Manager Davey Johnson said yesterday that he is uncertain how he would address the season's final game if it factored into the American League East race with the New York Yankees. Johnson has maintained that winning the division has been this year's initial goal. But at what price, given that losing the division would not forfeit a playoff berth?

"That's a good question," Johnson said.

Johnson is leaning heavily toward a 10-man staff for a presumed Division Series matchup with the Seattle Mariners. Within that staff he hopes to create a rotation of Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and Jimmy Key. To do so, he will have to manipulate Mussina's last start of the season. Mussina is currently scheduled to appear next Tuesday in Toronto, leaving him available for the regular-season finale Sept. 28.

Mussina could not pitch that day and be prepared for Game 1 against Seattle on Oct. 1. "For me, if you want him lined up right, you'd have to he doesn't fall right," said Johnson. "You could give him five or six days off."

All this begs the question: Which is more important should Sept. 28 matter, the division race or having Mussina open the playoffs?

"Everything is important," Johnson said. "Winning is important. Being lined up and rested for the first game of the playoffs is important. I hope it's something I don't have to address."

Davis goes full game

Johnson kept waiting for Eric Davis to approach him in the dugout Thursday and ask to be removed from the game, his first after having a chemotherapy treatment the previous day. But Johnson never heard a word from the Orioles' outfielder. Davis went the full nine innings, then resisted the temptation to start last night against Detroit.

"I want to go two days in a row, but I don't want to go these two days in a row," he said, adding that he'll play in the two afternoon games this weekend.

"I didn't want to try and push it too much. I have to be cautious as well. I don't want to over-exert myself and set myself back when everything is going so good."

Davis said he felt "pretty good" after playing the full game on Thursday. He also said he was surprised to get that far.

"I was so caught up in the game I didn't even realize I was doing that," he said. "I hadn't planned on going nine. Before I knew it, it was the eighth inning and I was like, 'I ain't coming out now.'

"I felt tired going into the game. I was a little woozy and was feeling a little nauseous. But I had to try it just to see how I felt. It was a big turning point for me, being able to go nine innings that soon."

Johnson has said all along that it's up to Davis when he plays and how much. He's taking his cue from the right fielder, a method that Davis appreciates. "It would be tough if I was forced into a situation where I had to come back and play," Davis said.

Davis still is looking for his first hit since returning to the club after colon cancer surgery June 13. He's 0-for-9, but has hit the ball hard a couple of times.

"He's farther along than I thought he'd be," Johnson said. "If he could get two or three days in a row, like spring training, he'd be close. It looks like he's running better. It looks like everything is getting more natural for him. He looks good in the field, he looks better running the bases. Hitting's the tough thing. His swing looks good, but his timing is just a little off."

Davis struck out three times Thursday, once in the eighth inning on a pitch that appeared to be outside. "That was so bad I couldn't even get mad," he said.

Chemo switch

Davis has been taking his chemotherapy treatments each Wednesday for six-week periods, but said he wants to move them to Fridays beginning next week, while the club is in Milwaukee.

This way, Davis can remain on a strict schedule during the playoffs, when games aren't played Fridays. "It can be done," he said. "Then, when we win the World Series, it would go back to Wednesdays."

Whether Davis is on the postseason roster still is an open BTC question. Johnson said by the end of the weekend, he'll have a better idea of "where we're at against left-handed pitching and right-handed pitching, how we're going to set up for the postseason."

Easy on Hammonds

Johnson decided to rest Jeffrey Hammonds last night after the outfielder had started two of the past three games in center field. Better to use caution, Johnson figured, while Hammonds still is dealing with a sore Achilles'.

"I could go to the whip on him, use him two or three days in a row, but I think he'd be barking, so I'm going to stay pretty much off him," said Johnson, who used Hammonds in the ninth inning as a pinch hitter and then put him in right field after the Orioles tied it. "I'll give him enough playing time to stay fresh, but not overdo that."

Tarasco feeling pinched

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