Mussina sees no link to start, non-contract


`Confused' 1-4 ace to meet with Flanagan

May 11, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - "Confused" Orioles ace Mike Mussina said yesterday he does not believe his ongoing struggles are related to stalled contract talks with the club, but added he will halt negotiations if he concludes they are taking a toll.

"I haven't really considered it yet," said Mussina, 1-4 with a 4.78 earned run average. "But if it's suggested to me, then maybe that's what we do."

Majority owner Peter Angelos' latest offer to Mussina was a five-year, $60 million package including $10 million deferred without interest. A gulf remains between Mussina's request for a six-year extension averaging at least $14 million per season with no money deferred.

"There's only one way to figure out if that's the problem," said Mussina, alluding to his reaching agreement with the club on an extension. "That's not likely to happen. I have to do my job better than I'm doing it no matter what the circumstances."

Mussina said he intended to approach former pitching coach and current Home Team Sports broadcaster Mike Flanagan either on last night's flight to Baltimore or today. Pitching coach Sammy Ellis has repeatedly sought Flanagan's input since spring training and the move is not viewed as intrusive by any segment of the clubhouse.

"It's no problem ... no problem at all," manager Mike Hargrove said.

Mussina admitted to being concerned after surrendering four home runs in seven innings during Tuesday's 6-4 loss. The game dropped Mussina to the worst start of his 10-year career.

"After six games into the season, I didn't think I was throwing bad," he said, referring to indifferent offensive support that cost him two wins. "Now, in the last two starts the situation is the other way, where I'm not throwing the ball that well. If the previous six games had gone a little differently, you might look at this in another way."

Following Tuesday's game, Mussina wondered aloud how he could throw a fastball off the plate and have it hit hard.

He admitted yesterday that he wonders if he is tipping pitches, something Flanagan wouldn't dismiss. "His delivery on his fastball is different from his off-speed pitches," said Flanagan.

Mussina's success is built upon his deception. His five-pitch assortment usually comes from a single motion and arm slot. He can usually overpower hitters with a 90-mph fastball because the same delivery also produces a sharp breaking knuckle-curve.

Walks haven't been among Mussina's problems. He allowed 12 hits on Tuesday but walked no one. What Flanagan calls a "side-to-side" pitcher, Mussina has too often strayed over the middle third of the plate and been punished with12 home runs in 58 1/3 innings.

Century mark

Tuesday's loss included a milestone for first baseman Jeff Conine as well as the team's veteran lineup. His ninth-inning single off Blue Jays closer Billy Koch was the 1,000th of his career and made him the eighth Orioles player to reach the benchmark.

"That's impressive," Conine said of the collective mark. "I knew I was close, but it's not like 3,000 where you have an idea every at-bat. I asked [public relations director Bill] Stetka in New York how close I was and he told me five."

He called for the ball and says he will place it alongside those from his first major-league hit, first home run, his All-Star Game home run in 1995 and his 100th major-league hit.

Around the horn

Cal Ripken played his second consecutive game as designated hitter, going 1-for-4. Hargrove said Ripken is experiencing no more than normal back stiffness but was kept off the SkyDome rug as a precaution. ... Ryan Minor received his first plate appearance of the season and flared a broken-bat single to score Brady Anderson in the sixth inning. ... Lance Painter, who held the Orioles to two hits in five innings, made only four starts for St. Louis last season.

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