Pitcher Rick Sutcliffe came off the disabled list yesterday, 18 days after undergoing surgery to remove torn cartilage from his left knee.
The veteran right-hander pitched a pair of simulated games Wednesday and Friday before getting the goahead to work out of the Orioles' bullpen, though he was not available to pitch in last night's game against the Oakland Athletics.
Manager Johnny Oates has not given him any specific role, but it appears that Sutcliffe will work in long relief and wait for a chance to enter the rotation as a spot starter.
"He's right now in the bullpen," Oates said. "He'll be available at all times."
Sutcliffe has not started since Aug. 16, when he suffered his seventh straight loss in a game against the Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome. He is 0-7 in his past 11 appearances, 10 of them starts.
He was pitching so poorly that the news that he needed surgery actually came as a relief. Sutcliffe was happy to find out that there was some logical explanation for his struggles, but still will have to prove that he can be effective enough to help in the pennant race.
"He looks good," Oates said. "He looks better than he did before the surgery. Back then, he was really looking tired."
Oates hinted earlier that Sutcliffe might get a start next week, but that seems very unlikely now.
Right-hander Mike Mussina had to leave Friday night's game after just six innings because he suffered renewed stiffness in his upper back.
Mussina spent nearly a month on the disabled list because of a similar problem, but he insisted late Friday night that he had not suffered a relapse. After treatment on Saturday, he told Oates that he would be ready to make his next scheduled start, on Wednesday.
"He says he feels OK today," Oates said. "He said it was just stiffness in his back."
The stiffness began early in the game and got progressively worse as Mussina came out for each inning. It reached the point after the sixth inning when Oates could not send him out to the mound again.
"When a guy tells me he's not feeling well, that's a pretty good indicator," Oates said. "If I send him back out there and he gets hurt or we lose the game, how do I look my team in the face? It's a no-win situation."