Mike Mussina has a short and sweet answer to the run of nagging injuries that has taken the edge off what began as a promising season.
"It's the odd years. I got hurt in '89 in college and in '91 in Rochester and now it's '93 and it's one thing after another. I'm just kind of waiting for '94 to roll around," Mussina said yesterday.
To be sure, Mussina hasn't given up on contributing to whatever success the Orioles have the rest of this 1993 season, and his 11-4 record still leads the pitching staff.
But his departure after five innings of yesterday's 8-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Camden Yards because of back strain followed a recent bout with biceps tendinitis and was the latest example of Mussina's body breaking before his spirit.
"I'm not too worried about it. It just irritates me," said Mussina. "I finally get rid of one thing, and the next thing steps in. I'm fighting to learn how to pitch again really. After spending a month throwing the ball incorrectly, now I'm working on trying to throw the ball right again. Sooner or later, I'm going to figure out what's going on and I'll get back to pitching the way I'm supposed to be doing it."
Yesterday's breakdown started in the third inning, when Mussina developed what he described as a strain of "some large muscle in my back" toward the bottom of his rib cage.
He spoke with Orioles trainer Richie Bancells and they agreed it was probably better for the right-hander, who threw 83 pitches yesterday, to take the rest of the day off.
"I couldn't get the fastball back down again and every time I did, it would irritate me," said Mussina. "I did whatever I could to get people out and it was probably more effective than when I had a good fastball, so maybe I should pitch like that all the time."
He added: "It was bothering me, so we thought it was best that instead of putting me down for a long time, we'd get me out of there and get prepared for the next turn. He [Bancells] has trouble finding it to push on it to irritate it, so it's not that big a deal. If he'd touch my back and it hurt, then we would know we have a problem. It's not that bad. If I can still get people out, I'm going to pitch."
Mussina said the back ailment was not related to the shoulder trouble that caused him to miss a start last month, but he said he did not want to alter his pitching mechanics to compensate for either problem.
"I'm just getting over the first injury and whatever this one is, we don't want to aggravate the first one. This is more a precautionary [measure] than the fact that I couldn't get anybody out," said Mussina. "If I was trying to change the way I threw the ball so that it just didn't irritate me, then I might mess up my shoulder even more. That's why we're doing it."
Mussina said he had experienced more severe back trouble at Rochester in 1991, and the cure then had been to curtail his regimen between starts.
"That was painful. This is just a kind of nuisance. I can still throw. It's just annoying. I just didn't throw in between starts for about six weeks. It steadily got better. Maybe that's what we'll have to do now," said Mussina. "Unfortunately, I'm not pitching too well, so it wouldn't hurt me to be throwing out there. Sometimes, you have to do some odd things to try to get by. If I'm still throwing effectively, I think they're still going to let me pitch."
Manager Johnny Oates said he had not spoken with Mussina after the game, but told reporters about the back strain.
If Mussina had been going great guns before yesterday, then this latest ailment could easily be chalked up as one of the minor woes baseball players endure during the course of the season.
But Mussina, who has become the ace of the staff in a little more than two years, has been battered lately, accumulating an earned run average of 8.50 in his last seven starts, jacking his overall ERA from 2.86 after his first 12 starts to 4.45.
Since June 6, the date of the brawl with the Seattle Mariners, Mussina has had only one quality start -- an 8-3 win over the Royals on July 7 in Kansas City, where he gave up one run and four hits in seven innings.
Were it not for the fact that the team's batters are scoring 5.4 runs per game, the best contribution for a starter, Mussina's record might not be so good.
"Shoot, I've had a lot of luck so far. I mean, I could be in a lot worse shape than 11-4 right now," said Mussina. "My ERA is twice what it should be, but it could be worse."
For now, the 24-year-old right-hander intends to play a bit of a waiting game, though he expects to take his next turn in Toronto on Tuesday.
"Injuries are irritating. They get to you mentally, more than anything. You're always going to heal. It's just can you mentally get through it and still be sharp when you get back? We'll see," said Mussina.
SINCE THE BRAWL
Mike Mussina's seven starts since the June 6 brawl in a game with the Mariners:
Date.. .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..BB .. ..SO .. ..ER
6/11 .. .. ..6 .. ..8 .. ...2 .. ...4 .. ...4
6/16 .. .. .6 2/3 .. .11 .. ...1 .. ...6 .. ...7
6/22 .. .. .1 2/3 .. ..5 .. ...1 .. ...3 .. ...5
7/2 .. .. ..3 2/3 .. ..8 .. ...3 .. ...2 .. ...7
7/7 .. .. ...7 .. ..4 .. ...1 .. ...5 .. ...1
7/16 .. .. ..6 .. .10 .. ...3 .. ...2 .. ...6
7/21 .. .. ..5 .. ..8 .. ...1 .. ...6 .. ...4
Totals .. ..36 .. .54 .. ..12 .. ..28 .. ..34
ERA past seven starts: 8.50