Mussina answers call, despite few from ump Strike zone squeezed, ace still goes strong 6 innings

Orioles notebook

March 22, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The numbers may look fairly bad, but to Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina, all that mattered yesterday was how he felt -- good and strong.

Mussina went six innings, his longest stretch of the spring, in his next to last start before Opening Day. He allowed nine hits and five runs, walked two and struck out two. It wasn't vintage Mussina, but he wasn't complaining.

"I thought I threw the ball fine," he said after the Orioles rallied for an 8-7 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "Sometimes you don't get the breaks. That's the way it goes."

He couldn't catch a break from the plate umpire, who squeezed him so tightly in the first inning that Mussina and catcher Chris Hoiles took turns questioning the strike zone. Mussina threw 27 pitches in the first inning, compared with only six in the fourth.

"He was a young umpire and he might have gotten fooled by a couple knuckle curves," said manager Ray Miller. "It obviously upset everybody, and it looked like Moose was trying to throw one even better after that and was overthrowing."

Of importance to Mussina, who totaled 80 pitches, was how he kept his curveball down -- "too far down sometimes, but that's correctable."

"I feel in the neighborhood of where I want to be," he added.

Mussina said he expects to keep the same schedule in his next start, working on a pitch count of 80-90, and would be on track to give the club 90-100 on Opening Day against Kansas City March 31.

"We'll see how the weather is," he said. "It could be snowing and a wind-chill in the 30s or 20s. We'll gauge it by how the game goes and what the weather is."

Second chance

Jeff Reboulet started at second base yesterday in place of Roberto Alomar, who was given permission to miss the game.

Alomar flew home to Puerto Rico on a private jet last night to attend to personal business. He's expected back for today's game against Montreal.

Reboulet said he was feeling much better after battling a chest cold that kept him from traveling to Jupiter on Thursday. It showed at the plate, where he singled in a run in the second inning. He also handled some tough chances in the field.

second helping

B. J. Surhoff batted second again yesterday and had his most productive game of the spring, going 3-for-4 with his first homer and a two-run double.

This was the second straight game Miller had Surhoff's name written in behind Brady Anderson. Miller has said he also could envision Alomar, Eric Davis, Mike Bordick and Reboulet hitting No. 2 at various times, depending on circumstances.

"It's not that big a deal for me," Surhoff said. "It doesn't change my approach. I've hit second before. The last couple of years I've been hitting down in the order in RBI spots, but wherever he's going to hit me, he's going to hit me."

Forbes makes impression

Being 30 and never having reached the majors, infielder P. J. Forbes has accomplished his main goal in camp -- getting noticed.

"You come in a virtual unknown to a coaching staff, and you leave with them talking about you. You've got to be happy about that -- as long as they're saying good things," said Forbes, who's batting .357 (5-for-14) with two doubles and six RBIs.

"I've really enjoyed myself. And I'd like to think what I've done here helps my chances in the future and lets them know if something happens at the major-league level, I could help."

It's just like his roommate at Triple-A Rochester last year, infielder Aaron Ledesma, who filled in capably after being summoned to the majors in early July. Forbes has drawn comparisons to Ledesma, who was taken by Tampa Bay in the expansion draft.

"You just hope you get in that situation and perform as well as he did," said Forbes, who batted .272 at Rochester last season after spending seven years in Anaheim's system.

Miller pulled Forbes aside after a recent game and reminded the Kansas native he's still considered a prospect despite his age, and that he has a better chance of getting to the majors on a good club like the Orioles than a bad one.

The gesture was appreciated by Forbes, who said, "I think he wants me to feel like what I've done here wasn't all for naught. Even though I've spent nine years in the minor leagues and I'm 30 years old, that doesn't mean an opportunity isn't out there for me on this club.

"He and [third base coach] Sam Perlozzo have mentioned [Seattle's] Rich Amaral, who played for 10 or 11 seasons in the minors, got called up, started his major-league career at 30 or 31 and is still there. It's nice to hear them say things like that. It gives me a good feeling as a player, that they look at me in that light. And I hope this last week to continue to give them that impression."

Tim Belcher, who is scheduled to start for the Royals in the opener at Camden Yards in nine days, gave up 13 runs on 13 hits and two walks in 2 2/3 innings yesterday in a 17-1 loss to the New York Yankees.

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