Mesa heats up for new shot at making roster


BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jose Mesa came into spring training a bit behind other Baltimore Orioles pitchers, but he had an excuse -- Mesa spent the winter in Rochester, N.Y.

The Orioles right-hander took it easy, rarely venturing outside, because "it was really, really cold. But my wife lives over there, so I went."

The weather curtailed off-season throwing for Mesa, who came back last year from two operations on his pitching elbow and was one of the Orioles' most dependable starters during the last five weeks.

But Mesa just now is catching up to his pitching colleagues.

"He's OK now," pitching coach Al Jackson said after Mesa's five-inning, one-run effort in yesterday's 4-3, 10-inning exhibition loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"A week ago, he was a little behind, because it's the first winter he didn't do anything. He tried to wait until the last minute, and you can't just come down here like it's July."

Mesa has pitched in two "B" games to work his way into shape and lowered his "A" game ERA to 4.09 yesterday after a third outing.

"I think I threw pretty good," said Mesa, who worked only 39 innings during the 1988 and 1989 seasons because of the elbow problems and was supposed to rehabilitate all year with the Class AA Hagerstown Suns in 1990.

"I just decided not to go to winter ball this year," he said, "just to stay in Rochester and relax. Now, I'm just trying to get my rhythm."

Mesa said he has a good chance to make the roster and will be considered for the rotation once he progressesto the point where he was at the end of last year.

"My elbow was bothering me the first couple of times, but it's getting better every time I go out. I'd like to be in the rotation. It's a lot better for me to be a starter."

Mesa, one of two pitchers acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Mike Flanagan trade in 1987, is 24. He has "live stuff" when right, and the American League hit only .218 against him last season.

His kind of talent is not easily dismissed.

"I feel so good today I want to let it go," he said. "And I went five innings. I think I'm improving every time out."

Mesa also had an opportunity to hit for the first time in "about 10 years" yesterday in a game played in a National League park, McKechnie Field.

"I liked it," he said after grounding out twice against Bob Walk, the second time with the bases loaded. "The first time he threw me a fastball, but with the bases loaded I saw two sliders and two curves.

"If he throws me a fastball, I'm going to hit it against him."

The Orioles scored twice in the 10th inning with Luis Mercedes' double leading the uprising, then lost when Todd Frohwirth practically assured himself a ticket to Rochester in the bottom of the inning.

Frohwirth allowed two singles and four walks, two with the bases loaded, to allow the Pirates to come from behind for their sixth victory in the past seven games.

Lloyd McLendon and Steve Carter drove in runs with walks, and Tom Prince had an RBI single in a rally that included an error by first baseman Sam Horn.

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