KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In the wake of the injury to veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, the Orioles appear to be making a &L; mountain out of a 10-inch hill.
Sutcliffe suffered a strained trapezius muscle in his shoulder last Sunday, when the clay under his landing foot gave way during a game against the Cleveland Indians at Camden Yards. The injury, suffered during a pennant race, apparently has put the Orioles' ground crew on the spot.
"I'm not the kind of guy to complain about things like that," Sutcliffe said yesterday, "but when it affects my start and the possible outcome of games that are very important to this club, then I have to say something."
"That's probably the worst mound I've ever thrown on in the big leagues, and I've got a few games in the big leagues to stack it up against."
The injury occurred in the third inning of the Orioles' 3-2 victory over the Indians. Sutcliffe went on to pitch into the seventh before giving way to the bullpen. The next four days were spent with trainers Richie Bancells and Jamie Reed, who helped Sutcliffe reduce the stiffness enough to make his scheduled start here Friday night.
He pitched 6 2/3 innings against the Royals and picked up his 12th victory before revealing that he had been hurt. Now, he says, he thinks he will be fine in time for his next appearance.
Manager Johnny Oates applauded Sutcliffe's gutty performance in Friday night's 3-1 victory, but he tried to downplay the injury and controversy yesterday.
"It's no big deal," he said. "It [his shoulder] is just a little tender. We'll just talk to him today and tomorrow and see how he feels. If he's fine, he'll pitch. If he's not, he won't."
Sutcliffe was sheepish about criticizing head groundskeeper Paul Zwaska and the grounds crew late Friday night, but he said yesterday that some pitchers already had complained earlier in the week.
"The frustrating part is how it happened," Sutcliffe said. "That's something that could have been avoided."
The problem with the mound was not limited to the area where Sutcliffe's front foot landed. He said the area under his right foot was so soft and dug up that his instep was bruised and bloodied after Sunday's game.
"Not much is going to be said because I'm 36 years old, but if it had happened to [Mike] Mussina or [Ben] McDonald, somebody would be in trouble," Sutcliffe said.
That may not be entirely true, because the injury apparently has prompted some action in Baltimore.
Assistant general manager Frank Robinson said that Zwaska has been made aware of the problem and that it will be corrected in time for the upcoming nine-game homestand.
Zwaska, reached at his home, said that the problem has developed because the mound is too dry and the surface has a tendency to flake. He said the situation is being corrected, but indicated that the problem last week was exacerbated by Indians pitcher Rod Nichols, who dug a very deep hole in the mound during the course of the game.
Sutcliffe confirmed that the hole where he was forced to plant his foot was too deep and contributed to the problems he experienced on the mound.