Miller to keep an eye on Mussina

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Manager won't push ace in first start in 3 weeks

Ripken bats 5th, homers

September 14, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Though he hasn't set an exact pitch count, Orioles manager Ray Miller said he'll proceed with caution tonight regarding Mike Mussina, who makes his first start since being hit behind the right shoulder by a line drive on Aug. 22.

"He hasn't been out there in a while so I'll be careful with him," Miller said. "He did simulate three innings in Minnesota and it went pretty good the other day [during a bullpen session]. I don't know what I'll be looking for. I won't push him to 100 [pitches]."

The sight of Mussina returning to the mound is pleasing enough Mussina to Miller, who found further proof of his ace's value to the club with a flip of the stat sheet.

"He's missed four starts and he's still on the leader board in strikeouts [144] and ERA [3.60]," Miller said.

"We miss him. We miss him dearly."

Mussina remains five victories shy of his first 20-win season. Miller said if Mussina reels off four in a row, he would consider starting the right-hander on short rest to give him a chance at the elusive milestone.

"He's got a pretty tough path to do it against. We'll be playing some pretty good clubs," Miller said, noting how Texas, Boston and New York remain on the schedule.

Ripken moves up, homers

After indicating over the weekend that he preferred batting Cal Ripken sixth in the order, Miller moved him up to fifth last night while dropping Jeff Conine one notch.

Ripken homered in his first at-bat, leaving him 18 hits shy of 3,000. Going 1-for-2 with two walks (one intentional), Ripken has nine hits in his last 16 at-bats.

Miller had said he didn't want to disrupt the five players normally ahead of Ripken in the lineup, but the Iron Man's recent tear and Conine's 3-for-28 skid apparently have changed his thinking. Another factor was how Seattle manager Lou Piniella chose to walk Ripken intentionally with first base open and Jerry Hairston on deck during the fourth inning Sunday.

"Conine's done extremely well in the sixth spot all year. I thought Rip might get pitched to a little more," Miller said. "And he's been swinging the [heck] out of the bat. That's probably the most important reason."

Miller also moved up switch-hitting Eugene Kingsale to seventh "to give Conine some backing."

Asked if hitting Ripken fifth would become permanent, Miller said, "I don't know. It'll depend on numbers."

Golden words about Bordick

Miller continues to campaign for Mike Bordick to be rewarded for his defensive excellence this season. Each game, and each difficult play that is made routine, brings another round of praise from the manager.

"He's one of the most outstanding shortstops that I've seen, especially this year. He's just been unbelievable. For sure, he's my Gold Glove guy," Miller said.

"I know their shortstop [Seattle's Alex Rodriguez] is a great one, and so is the guy in Boston [Nomar Garciaparra] and the guy in Cleveland [Omar Vizquel], but this guy has been absolutely phenomenal for us this year and as solid as I've ever seen. He's playing day in and day out and having his best year ever offensively."

Bordick went 0-for-4 to end his 13-game hitting streak. He is batting .274 with 10 homers and a career-best 64 RBIs. But his work in the field seems to be drawing the most attention.

Bordick was leading American League shortstops with a .989 fielding percentage before last night's errorless game, and ranked second in total chances.

"I don't think that's something you think about until the off-season," Bordick said of winning a Gold Glove. "Right now, I think we still have a lot to play for as a team. So much of this team is going to be back next year and it would be good to finish on a strong note and prove we can put together some wins and go into the off-season with a little bit of a positive feeling.

"Obviously there are a lot of great shortstops who get a lot of well-deserved attention, and they're all having great years. I just want to go out there and try to be consistent for the team."

Garcia armed to stay?

Jesse Garcia, who could break camp next spring as the Orioles' utility infielder, remembers the doubts that followed him around Fort Lauderdale last March. He twice had been named the Eastern League's best defensive second baseman, but was his arm strong enough to play shortstop?

It had to be if the organization was going to move him off second to make room for Hairston.

Garcia already knew the answer. He just had to pass it along to club officials, which he did by gunning throws from his knees and deep in the hole. At least once, Miller and general manager Frank Wren looked at each other with shocked expressions.

"Playing second, I rarely got to show my arm strength. You just lob the ball over there," Garcia said. "But I knew I had a strong arm and in spring training I wanted to show them I did. I heard they didn't know, so I kind of put an end to all those questions right there."

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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