An ounce of prevention might prove to be the cure for Mike Mussina's alleged "dead arm."
Based on his performance last night, a five-hitter for his third shutout of the season in the Orioles' 4-0 win, the Detroit Tigers found nothing wrong with Mussina's arm strength.
"He abuses us," said ex-Oriole Mickey Tettleton, mindful that Mussina is now 3-0, with an 0.63 earned run average in five career starts against the Tigers. The 23-year-old right-hander has shut out the most prolific home run-hitting team in baseball twice, and allowed just one run in each of his other three starts.
"I thought he was better than the last time [a 6-0 shutout in Detoit, June 12]," said Detroit manager Sparky Anderson. "It never seemed to me there was a feeling at any time that we were going to get him."
Mussina's gem came five days after he, in effect, removed himself from a rain-delayed game in Boston in which he had a 3-2 lead. This is the same guy who told manager Johnny Oates, "I'm going back out there," when asked if he was OK during a game earlier in the year.
Oates admitted that removing Mussina from the game in Boston was the farthest thing from his mind -- until pitching coach Dick Bosman relayed a message.
"I'll go back out there if you want, but I'm bushed," is the gist of what Mussina told Bosman. There was no hesitation about making a pitching change, and no regrets, even though the Orioles eventually lost the game.
It was after that game that Mussina said his arm seemed dead, which is not to be confused with sore. Explanations sometimes are difficult. "My opinion [on the dead arm theory] is that you can throw -- but your arm doesn't want to do it," said Mussina.
Looking back, Oates thinks Mussina's words to Bosman could have been a strong contributing factor to his success last night -- and possibly the rest of the season.
"It makes me appreciate the fact that he knows when he's had enough," said Oates, "and that he's smart enough to tell me that. I'm sure that was at least part of the reason for his success tonight."
Mussina also attributed a decreased workload between starts as a factor in his latest dominating performance. "I didn't throw between starts," he said. "I just played easy catch every day, instead of throwing for 15 or 20 minutes the second day."
It was a practice he said he used last year with Triple-A Rochester, when he felt his arm was going through a midseason "tired" stage. Asked if he would use the same routine before his next outing (Monday in Toronto), he said: "I don't know, we'll have to see."
The temptation not to change anything after last night's effort will be great, but that doesn't mean there will be any drastic overhaul of the normal workout schedule. But slight alterations are always in order at this time of the season, which is not unlike the late part of spring training.
"Staying in shape is an important part of any sport, and so is getting rest," said Mussina. "Going out there once every five days, I'm sure they'll want me to throw [between starts]."
One guy who didn't necessarily subscribe to the dead arm theory for Mussina was Jeff Tackett, who not only caught last night's masterpiece, but also drove in the game's first run with a seventh-inning single.
"I don't know about his arm being dead. He left a game after six innings and a rain delay and we had a 3-2 lead," Tackett said, correctly assessing that wasn't exactly a throw-away line for a pitcher.
However, there wasn't any question that Mussina was more in control of last night's game than he was in his last start, primarily because he had a good variety, and excellent control (no walks). "The hitters couldn't just sit on one pitch," said Tackett.
Tackett had grounded out weakly in two at-bats against Detroit starter John Doherty, who matched Mussina pitch-for-pitch through six innings, before finding himself in a unique position in the seventh inning.
A walk to Randy Milligan and a single by Joe Orsulak off reliever John Kiely (3-1) set up a sacrifice bunt by Leo Gomez -- and the third intentional walk of his career for Bill Ripken (six RBI in his last four games).
"I wasn't surprised at all that they walked Billy to get to me," said Tackett. "They're taking the chance of getting out of the inning with a double play. Hopefully they'll keep doing it, and it'll keep working out for us."
Tackett appeared to just lay his bat on a 1-and-2 pitch from Kiely, lining the ball between first and second.
"I'd been kind of jumping at the ball [earlier in the game], and I really haven't felt comfortable at the plate lately," said Tackett, whose average has dropped to .230. "I just told myself to stay back and wait for the ball. I was looking for a slider and fortunately he threw me one."
Brady Anderson's infield roller got in another run before Mike Devereaux (69 RBI) singled to left off Les Lancaster, the Tigers' third reliever, to finish the scoring.