Right-hander Mike Mussina has been scratched again from the Orioles starting rotation and is expected to go on the disabled list this weekend.
Mussina underwent another round of examinations Thursday to determine the extent of the back injury he suffered during a July 21 start against the Kansas City Royals. He received a cortisone injection yesterday and figures to be out of action at least 10 more days.
The club made no roster move yesterday, but manager Johnny Oates indicated that Mussina would be placed on the disabled list as soon as a decision is made on who will come up to pitch in his place. Club officials are not framing this as a major setback, but yesterday was not a happy day for a team that needs every front-line player to make a run at the American League East title.
If Mussina is placed on the DL, he'll be eligible to come off in less than a week, since he can be put on the list retroactive to July 22, but Oates did not want to set a tentative date for his return.
"I have no idea when he'll pitch next," Oates said. "He can't throw a ball until Monday [because of the shot]. The only thing I do know is that he isn't throwing a pitch until he's healthy."
Mussina had already been pushed back once. Now, Rick Sutcliffe will move into tomorrow's start and Fernando Valenzuela will pitch Monday. The Orioles will need to move someone into the rotation Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers to keep everyone else on normal rest.
Possibilities at Rochester include left-hander Arthur Rhodes and right-handers Mike Bielecki and Kevin McGehee.
Rhodes seems the most likely choice. He made his final appearance of a 30-day injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Rochester last night against Columbus, and could come back on three days' rest to pitch Tuesday.
Rhodes was originally on a 110-pitch limit, but Red Wings manager Bob Miscik received a call from the Orioles during the national anthem telling him to limit Rhodes to 75 pitches. Rhodes lasted 3 2/3 innings, throwing 77 pitches. He threw 47 pitches for strikes, but pitched behind most of the game. He allowed one run, struck out two, walked one and threw a wild pitch.
"Of his last three starts, this is the worst of the three," Miscik said.
Rhodes finished his rehab assignment 1-1 with a 4.10 ERA. His rehab ends Monday, when the Orioles will have to bring him up or option him to Rochester.
"We're going to need a fifth guy on Tuesday," Oates said. "He's one of the possibilities. I've got five days to worry about that."
Bielecki, a native of Dundalk, is scheduled to start tomorrow for Rochester. He is 4-1 with a 3.93 ERA with the Red Wings, and he said he has a clause in his contract that says if he isn't called up to the Orioles by Monday, he has the option of trying to sign with another team.
The Orioles also could look at McGehee, who was acquired in the deal that sent Luis Mercedes to the San Francisco Giants. McGehee is scheduled to pitch today, which would appear to rule him out for Tuesday, but the Orioles could ask that he be shelved if they want to see him badly enough.
There is one other scenario. The club could pull off a last-minute deal before tonight's deadline to trade players without sending them through waivers. General manager Roland Hemond has not ruled out a trade, but he said yesterday that the likelihood of a deal is not connected to Mussina's condition.
"Not really," he said. "It should be a short time that he's out anyway and we've got pitching within our own organization."
Finding a spot starter is the immediate dilemma, but the long-term considerations are far more important to a club that is in the thick of the division race. Mussina has been out of action for 10 days. He probably won't be back until mid-August, which is a serious setback for the team -- if not for himself.
Mussina says his condition has not worsened over the past few days, but he refused to estimate when he would again be available to pitch.
"I don't know," he said. "What am I going to speculate? It hasn't gotten worse. It actually has improved over the last few days, but I threw on the side in Toronto and it bothered me."
It has been a difficult season for Mussina, 24. He was sidelined earlier this summer with a sore shoulder and spent the past couple of weeks embroiled in a controversy over his behavior during the All-Star Game.
If Oates has his way, Mussina won't come close to pitching for the Orioles again until he has pitched somewhere else to ascertain that he is completely healthy.
"As long as it will have been since he was out there, I'd like to see him go somewhere and throw four or five innings to test it," Oates said.
Mussina was told not to do anything strenuous for 48 hours after the injection, so the first chance he will have to throw probably will be Monday.
If all goes well and Oates' desire for a minor-league rehabilitation assignment is heeded, the earliest Mussina could make his next major-league start would be Aug. 10.