Mussina's first spring start is hardly rustproof


Staff's ace gets decked for 5 runs in 3 innings

March 06, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As planned, Mike Mussina's first exhibition start ended after three innings. That's about all that went right.

The Florida Marlins roughed up Mussina for five runs yesterday, three coming on a home run by Mike Lowell in the third inning. Four of their six hits went for extra bases in a game the Orioles rallied to win, 7-5.

Mussina gave up doubles to David Berg and Preston Wilson in the first inning to fall behind 1-0. The Orioles tied it in the second, but Florida erupted in the third. An error by second baseman Delino DeShields started the inning, and Berg's run-scoring single broke the tie. Cliff Floyd doubled, and after Wilson struck out, Lowell homered off the bottom of the scoreboard in left-center field.

"I've never been the best spring training pitcher," said Mussina, who had thrown two scoreless innings in Wednesday's intrasquad game. "The first day out, I made some good pitches. I got the ball over the plate. I wasn't really behind on people. I probably threw the ball over the middle too much, and that's all that really happened to me. They put the ball in play. I got one pitch up for the home run. That's the way the process goes when you start playing games in March.

"I'm just looking to get innings and pitches and get a feel out there. By the third inning it was tougher to throw breaking balls. Mechanics start coming apart when you start to get tired. It's something I haven't done in a while."

Mussina usually goes two innings in his first spring start. "If I had only thrown two today I would have been OK," he said, grinning. "I threw two innings in the intrasquad game so we wanted to bulk it up."

The voice of experience

As the unquestioned leader of the staff, Mussina has assumed the responsibility of talking to some of the young starters about not putting too much pressure on themselves during Scott Erickson's absence. The conversations are informal. Usually a brief chat in the outfield during batting practice or in the weight room. But the message is clear.

"The four of us can only pitch on our four days. You can't take the four of us and spread us out and make us fill the five days. It just doesn't work that way. We can only do our jobs on our days and we need to focus on that," Mussina said.

"We can't do two jobs. We shouldn't expect ourselves to do it, and nobody expects us to do it, so why put the pressure on ourselves to do more than we're supposed to be doing.

"I'm not sitting people down and having clinics. I just try to mention it. For Jason [Johnson] and Sidney [Ponson], this is the first time they've gone through this. This is going to be Jason's first full year in the rotation, and Sidney's coming off his first full year. It's different for them. You don't want them sitting there going, `Oh, I need to go one more inning,' or, `I need to win today.' Just go out and have the same frame of mind every time."

Mussina has been in this situation before, so his is a voice of experience. He has been in rotations that at various times have lost Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki to injuries. He's also seen it from the other side, having gone on the disabled list twice in 1998 and missing four starts last year with a badly bruised shoulder.

"You worry about yourself and what your job is," Mussina said. "On your day to pitch, go out and pitch the best game you can."

Hey, remember me?

Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver took a break from his daily round of golf to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Tanned and relaxed, he fired a strike to minor-league catcher Jayson Werth and exited to a rousing ovation.

Weaver clearly is enjoying retirement after a 17-year career that ended with his induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. He quit smoking, a concession to last year's heart attack.

"It's great to be able to get up in the morning and do whatever you want," he said. "I'll be turning 70 this year, and life is good. I'm enjoying life tremendously. Everything's going along well for me."

Weaver said the first thing he does upon opening the sports section of his newspaper each day is check the Orioles' box score. His ties to Baltimore remain unbreakable, even though he lives in Hialeah, Fla., and hasn't been with the club since 1986.

"The Orioles have been so good to me over the years that I just don't understand it," he said with a chuckle. "Time marches on and I don't know how many people remember Earl Weaver or the '69, '70, '71 seasons. But in Baltimore the memories will be there forever."

Another day at the office

Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo celebrated his 49th birthday yesterday. He marked the occasion by allowing himself to be second-guessed.

Perlozzo waved home slow-footed Harold Baines on a single by Charles Johnson in the second inning. Marlins left fielder Amaury Garcia got to the ball quickly and fired a perfect strike to catcher Ramon Castro, who stood waiting as Baines chugged toward the plate.

"I was in full agreement with Sammy," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I would have sent him, too. And he probably would have been out by 30 feet again."

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