Back may make Mussina miss a start in Toronto Pitcher, Oates disagree on status


MINNEAPOLIS -- Will Mike Mussina make his next scheduled start on Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays? Depends on who you ask.

Mussina said yesterday that his sore back had improved significantly, imcreasing the likelihood that he'll take the mound in the first game of a two- game series against the defending World Champions at SkyDome.

"I'm much better today," said Mussina, who had to be removed from his start Wednesday with a back strain. "If I make this much progress the next two days, yeah, I'll pitch."

That's not quite the way manager Johnny Oates sees the situation, however. He said yesterday that the outlook for Mussina on Tuesday remained very questionable, and took issue with the notion that Mussina's condition had improved dramatically.

"That's not what the trainers tell me," Oates said. "They said don't count on Tuesday. We'll probably make a decision tomorrow."

If Mussina doesn't go in the opener in Toronto, chances are he'll be held back for Friday's opener against the Boston Red Sox. Even if he is delayed further, it is unlikely that the club will place him on the disabled list. The two upcoming offdays make it possible to go with a four-man rotation for much of the next two weeks.

"We can go day-to-day with him until Aug. 2," Oates said. "That's a long time."

Streaking left-hander Fernando Valenzuela would move into Wednesday's start against Toronto if Mussina moves back to Friday. The Blue Jays have struggled against left-handed pitching this year, so it might be a blessing in disguise if Oates decides to move either Mussina or struggling Rick Sutcliffe back a couple of days.

Voigt's big night

Rookie Jack Voigt had been to the plate just once since July 2, but he singled in his first at-bat last night and doubled home two important runs in the fifth inning. So, how did he manage to stay sharp through a month of inactivity.

"Greg Biagini (Orioles batting coach) keeps me in check a lot, making sure that I didn't just play home run derby in batting practice," Voigt said, "and I watched the way Tim Hulett handles the utility role. I'm learning from him."

Hammonds still hot

Rookie Jeffrey Hammonds had two more hits to raise his average to .300. He has eight multiple-hit performances in his 22 major league games.

Anderson leads way

Left fielder Brady Anderson has been playing with a sore thumb, but he has been a driving offensive force with five hits in the first two games of the series. His 2-for-5 performance last night raised his average to .240.

Trivial hirsute

Sutcliffe is willing to do anything to change his luck -- even shave off a beard that has become his trademark.

Sutcliffe showed up on the field clean-shaven for yesterday's pre-game stretching, showing his full face to his teammates for the first time.

"I told him, 'Now I know why you've worn a beard all these years," Oates said.

McDonald OK

Right-hander Ben McDonald, who had complained of increased shoulder stiffness after his last start, said that he felt fine after a short workout on Thursday.

"Everything's all right," said McDonald. "No problem."

Frohwirth changes schools

Reliever Todd Frohwirth has given up his duties as junior varsity basketball coach at Marquette High School in Milwaukee, but he hasn't given up coaching in the offseason. He'll still coach an eight-grade team and will work as a part- time junior varsity coach at another high school.

"The coach at Marquette asked me to be assistant coach of the varsity, but I didn't want to do that," Frohwirth said. "That would have required four hours a day. This way, I won't have to be there all of the time."

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