FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If progress is measured in small steps, infielder Jeff Reboulet has inched forward a little more.
Projected as the Orioles' starting second baseman on Opening Day, Reboulet informed manager Ray Miller yesterday that his painful left heel had improved enough that he could appear in consecutive games.
"He asked me about the situation, where we were at," Reboulet said. "We're moving along. I guess you have to start somewhere, right?"
Reboulet started Monday's loss to the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie and "came out of it pretty good," Miller said. He was available as an extra infielder yesterday in the Orioles' 11-10 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, but Miller didn't use him.
"I don't think we're at the stage yet where I'm going to play [entirely] two in a row," Reboulet said, "but I think we're at the stage where I can play a game and, obviously with a little notice, go in and play in the next one. I don't know if you can keep that pace up, though. We'll see how it recovers."
Reboulet has been receiving treatment for tendinitis in the heel, a condition that flared up last spring but wasn't as restrictive. He's needed at least one day off after starts, and is wearing a padded insert in his shoe with a hole to prevent contact with the tender area. He also has the foot taped to help support his arch.
"Anytime you've got something with your heel and you're on your feet all day on these hard fields in spring training, I guess any progress is good," he said. "Playing on it every day is going to wear anybody's feet out. You can talk to guys whose feet weren't hurting before and they've got these ailments here and there. So, to make any progress while we're here is a plus. I just don't want to set it back right now to the point where it would take awhile to get back. We don't have the luxury of having a couple extra weeks."
Rather than be eased into the regular season, Reboulet most likely will shed his utility role for the starting assignment at second base because of Delino DeShields' fractured thumb. DeShields can be placed on the disabled list retroactive to 10 days before Opening Day. With a day off on April 6, a replacement would be needed for at least four games, and perhaps more if DeShields goes on a rehab assignment.
"That's what we're trying to work toward," Reboulet said. "I'm not going to play five games in a row here and set myself back so I can't play five in a row [in Baltimore]. I certainly know which games are more important."
Reboulet said he aggravated the heel "a couple times" during the Mets game.
"It has its moments on plays where I can feel it a little bit here and there, but my recovery's been pretty good," he said. "Before, if I hurt it, I was out for a couple days. It's not biting as much as it was before. I'm just trying to get through games without aggravating it, but you don't always have that luxury. When a ball's hit over the mound, you have to go get it. I'm not going to dog it so I can get through that day.
"This didn't show up overnight, and it's not going to go away overnight, either. But as long as nothing major happens, I should be in pretty good shape."
Mussina off form
Coming off one of the most dominant spring performances of his career, Mike Mussina took a 180-degree turn yesterday. And he saw it coming.
Mussina didn't have his good stuff while warming in the bullpen, and it didn't get any better once the game started. He labored through four innings, allowing five runs and seven hits, with two walks. Included in the wreckage was a three-run homer by Fernando Tatis in the third inning that crashed into the scoreboard in left-center field, and a bases-empty shot by David Howard in the fourth.
"This time of year you either feel really good or really bad, where you fight to get the ball over the plate and throw strikes. This was one of those times. I just have to forget about it. I have that luxury this time of year," he said.
"I knew it wasn't going to come that easily so I tried to work down and change speeds. Next time I'll try to be better. I don't sit back and worry about it too much."
In his last appearance, Mussina shut out the New York Mets on one hit over four innings, striking out six.
"This is a balancing act between the last two and it comes out even," he said.
Timlin gets on track
Mike Timlin said he felt no different Monday. Those were the same pitches he had thrown in his three earlier outings. Only the result varied.
"It just happened to work out," he said, laughing.
Timlin pitched a scoreless eighth against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, which wouldn't gain much notice except he had allowed four runs (one earned) and five hits in his previous three innings.
Miller, who had considered using his closer for two innings in the middle of a game to provide more work, said Timlin's fastball registered in the mid-90s against the Mets.
"Hard-throwing closers don't usually have good springs. Then it starts to come along. It takes awhile," Miller said.