SEATTLE -- Right-hander Mike Mussina has been scratched from the three-game series against the Seattle Mariners with a severe stomach virus, so Jose Mesa took his place last night and Rick Sutcliffe will move up in the rotation to start tonight's game at The Kingdome.
Mussina was not expected to answer the bell last night. He fell ill during the weekend, and manager Johnny Oates had said he was "98 percent" doubtful to start the series opener. But it was not until just before game time yesterday that Oates decided it would be best to allow his young right-hander to regain his strength and pitch Friday night in Oakland, Calif.
"That kid is very weak," Oates said. "He hasn't eaten in three days. On the flight over here, he slept the whole way."
Mussina did report to the Kingdome yesterday, but was examined by a local physician and sent back to the team hotel to recuperate.
Sutcliffe will be able to move up and pitch on just three days' rest because he lasted only 2 2/3 innings in his start Saturday against the California Angels. He will be coming off two troubling performances in which he gave up a total of 14 earned runs over nine innings, but he said he was anxious to get back to the mound.
"Sure I am," Sutcliffe said. "That's the toughest part -- sitting around and facing your teammates for four or five days after a disappointment. I'm available for whatever. If they wanted me to pitch long relief today or tomorrow, I'd do that.
"I've had a couple of bad outings. The only thing you can do is get back out there and try to turn it around."
It has not been much fun the past eight days. Sutcliffe gave up eight earned runs in a 6 1/3 -inning performance against the Oakland Athletics on May 18, then came back Saturday to give up six runs to the Angels. He threw only 59 pitches in that outing, making him available on a day that he would otherwise throw on the side.
He said yesterday that he thinks he has figured out what went wrong in those two games.
"I had some success with a two-seam fastball -- the sinking fastball -- and I kind of fell in love with it," he said. "That's not me. I throw a four-seam fastball in good locations. That's me and I kind of got away from it. There are going to be ups and downs throughout the year for everybody. I don't plan on staying down much longer."
The rest of the club has kept the pressure from building too much. Sutcliffe was brought in to help lead the youthful Orioles pitching staff, but he credits his teammates with keeping him from getting too frustrated.
"You can really get down on yourself when you're struggling," Sutcliffe said, "but I grabbed the sports page and looked at the standings and I didn't have to look too far to find our team. That makes it a lot easier for me. That's why I'm excited about pitching tomorrow [tonight]. I've got a chance to help."
The way things turned out, Sutcliffe's poor performance Saturday might have saved the Orioles a roster move. Oates indicated he would not endanger the club's solid bullpen chemistry to fill a spot start, so the club might have been forced to recall a pitcher from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.
Right-hander Storm Davis is an experienced starter, but moving him into the rotation for only one game would leave the Orioles two relievers short for the next three or four.
"I'll bring a guy in from Rochester before I'll do that," Oates said. "If you bring a guy out of the bullpen, it kills you. You have to go with a four-man bullpen and the day he pitches you'll have to use up one of them because he probably can go no more than five innings. With a 10-man pitching staff, that really can hurt you."
Davis might eventually get his chance to start, but only if he is needed to fill a permanent spot in the rotation. Oates has been pleased with his performance in middle relief and is in no hurry to make any major changes.