O's ace waits turn

Mussina was rest for Rangers even before the rainout

May 20, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas - Even before a monster cold front that rumbled through Arlington last night made the decision a formality, Mike Hargrove's decision to pitch Mike Mussina tonight five games rather than five days after his previous start said much about where the Orioles' ace has been, where he is and where his manager hopes he is headed.

Mussina will make his 10th start tonight against the Texas Rangers, the team he beat with 138 pitches on April29 for his only win this season. It will be his first with an additional day's rest.

"I've thrown a lot of pitches and a lot of innings up to this point. An extra day isn't going to do me any harm and it might do me some good," said Mussina, who entered last night as the American League leader in innings pitched (65 1/3 ) for an average of 7 1/3 innings per start. "Health-wise, it's probably a good thing to do at this point. The rotation stays intact. Nothing gets disrupted. And the next time around I'll pitch on the fifth day even with an off day [Monday]. I'm fine with that."

Mussina normally would have been assigned last night's start following last Sunday's appearance against the Boston Red Sox, a 10-1 loss that grew ugly after he was lifted. However, an off day last Monday permitted Hargrove the flexibility to grant Mussina additional rest.

"Most generally, people pitch best off five days," said Hargrove. "It doesn't hurt to occasionally let a guy have a sixth day. It's a maintenance thing. You take your car in to get your oil changed. It doesn't hurt every now and then. But the next time we won't [bump him back]."

Given last night's rainout, Hargrove said he will skip Jason Johnson's start and temporarily assign him to the bullpen. Johnson will probably make his next start May27 at home against the Oakland A's and work in long relief in the meantime.

The Rangers announced the game will be made up as part of a twi-night doubleheader on Sept. 12 during what is now the Orioles' four-city, 13-game road trip.

Mussina classified Hargrove's move as "a very good idea" and cited the heavy workload he has assumed since grinding for 7 2/3 innings in a 4-1 Opening Day loss to the Cleveland Indians. A series of close games that have rarely seen him pitch with leads, an inconsistent bullpen and his own desire to rehabilitate his record have conspired for heavy lifting.

"This has been a little different," Mussina understated. "You have to remain mindful of the next few months as well as the next few days. That's what this does."

Mussina has traditionally been wed to appearing every fifth day. It is a preference that his managers have gladly adhered to ever since he achieved status as one of the game's elites.

Mussina is likewise reluctant to pitch on short rest because of its effect on his routine between starts as well as the carryover fatigue it creates.

But this has been no typical season for Mussina, a 13-game winner in each of his eight full major-league seasons. Entering tonight's start, he is 1-5 for the first time in his career with a 4.68 ERA in nine starts. He has conferred with pitching coach Sammy Ellis and broadcaster/confidant Mike Flanagan. Adjustments have been made in his mechanics to help him better locate his fastball. The rest of the rotation waits, meanwhile, to be carried along by his draft.

Initially plagued by indifferent run support then affected by slightly offset mechanics, Mussina has had to confront a level of confusion and frustration he has not experienced before.

Stagnated talks regarding a contract extension have complicated the mix, though Mussina insists he will shut down negotiations before he uses it as an explanation for his performance.

There has been no apparent movement in talks since majority owner Peter Angelos upgraded his offer to $60 million over five years. Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, has not made a counteroffer because of the gulf separating the sides.

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