Removing whatever sliver of doubt still remained, manager Mike Hargrove said yesterday that Mike Mussina would take his normal turn tomorrow against the Anaheim Angels at Camden Yards.
Scott Erickson, who made two rehab starts in the minors, will open the three-game series in New York the following night. Hargrove's decision also keeps Erickson on schedule since he pitched Sunday at Double-A Bowie.
Because Mussina had thrown 138 pitches in Saturday's complete-game victory over Texas, Hargrove considered holding back his ace to allow for more recovery time. Such maneuvering also would have allowed Hargrove to run out his No. 1 starter against the Yankees, who hold a two-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East.
Taking it all into account, Hargrove decided it was more important to keep Erickson on four days' rest. He also was convinced that Mussina had bounced back sufficiently from Saturday's rigorous start, which produced his first win.
"It's too early in the season to start toying with the rotation," Hargrove said. "We'll stay with the way it was originally set up."
Erickson accumulated 13 2/3 innings in his two rehab starts. He didn't allow a run in seven innings at Bowie and exceeded 100 pitches after being limited to 85 in Single-A Frederick. His velocity also improved slightly, and he again didn't report any discomfort while throwing all his pitches.
"I expect Scott to go out and throw strikes," Hargrove said. "Scott's history has been that he's a big, strong guy who goes out and gives you a good day's work. I don't expect anything less. But we're certainly not going to leave Scotty out there for 120, 130 pitches."
Mercedes moves to 'pen
Erickson's return means right-hander Jose Mercedes is shipped to the bullpen after going 2-1 with a 6.38 ERA in four starts.
He seemed to take the news in stride. Having made the club out of spring training as a nonroster invitee, Mercedes just wants to continue wearing the uniform.
"For you to be in the starting rotation, you're supposed to be one of the five better pitchers and go six or seven innings every time. I haven't gone more than six innings yet," he said. "It doesn't really matter to me where I'm going to pitch. Wherever I go, I just want to stay healthy and help the team win."
Mercedes had earned a starting spot by allowing six earned runs in 20 innings in spring training. He walked six and struck out 12, impressing Hargrove with his ability to throw strikes and work quickly. But Mercedes couldn't find that groove after coming north.
Anointed the fifth starter, Mercedes won his April 9 debut against Detroit, allowing three earned runs in five innings. He didn't get the decision in his next start on April 14 against Minnesota after permitting four runs in six innings. He improved to 2-0 on April 22 in Oakland after allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings, but suffered his first loss on April 27 when Chicago scored four times in 1 2/3 innings.
Mercedes had arthroscopic surgery on his right rotator cuff in 1998, but Hargrove said he's not concerned about the pitcher's durability as a reliever.
"I don't anticipate there being any problems with Jose," he said.
Morales gets some swings
Willie Morales, who opened the season as the Orioles' backup catcher when Greg Myers went on the disabled list, swung a bat for the first time on Sunday and hopes to take batting practice tomorrow.
Morales was forced on the disabled list with a hyperextended left elbow. He was eligible to come off yesterday. He hit about 25 balls off a tee on Sunday, bringing some encouragement that had been lacking until the past week.
"The first 10 days or so I started to get discouraged because I didn't feel much progress," he said. "This is all new to me. It's the first time since November that I went more than a few days without taking some swings. I was getting antsy."
Farm director Don Buford said Morales might be sent to the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., to get some at-bats before going to Triple-A Rochester.
Waiting on Garcia
Infielder Jesus Garcia was due to report to Rochester yesterday after being optioned on Friday. He had been delayed because his car needed repairs, and did arrive for last night's game.
Rochester manager Marv Foley had been wondering what happened to his shortstop.
"I haven't seen him or heard anything about him," Foley told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "I don't worry about stuff like that. Either they show up or they don't."
Around the horn
Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina left in the sixth inning with stiffness in his right shoulder. ... Delino DeShields had his 10th steal. He had 11 all of last season. ... The Angels' Tim Salmon hit his 200th career double.