CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If Ben McDonald happened to be a minor-leaguer grasping for a spot on the Orioles' Opening Day roster, his hopes would have been dashed by his performance against Philadelphia yesterday.
He threw his fastball with little knowledge of its exact destination. His pitch selection was awful; at one point, McDonald said, he threw 21 straight fastballs. The Phillies beat him up for three hits, two walks and two runs in two innings on their way to a 6-5 exhibition victory.
But McDonald is no minor-leaguer, and in the big picture, his outing was rated a success by those who really care, his manager and pitching coach. McDonald threw free and easy, his arm extended and his fastball explosive.
His right elbow, which stiffened earlier this week? Felt great, he said. No problems whatsoever.
McDonald felt so strong that he even asked manager Phil Regan if he could throw a third inning. Regan said no, and McDonald agreed later maybe that's for the best.
"I was happy with the way the elbow felt," he said. "We're definitely going in the right direction with that thing."
Regan said: "He had a sore elbow. Why push it?"
A pitcher says his elbow is hurting and normally a manager's internal alarm will sound, particularly when it's his No. 2 starter. But, McDonald said, there's no feeling of panic this year. See, he's been through this before; he had the same problem last spring, about midway through camp, the stiffness in the joint.
McDonald slowly worked through that pain, and then started the season by winning his first seven decisions. "That makes it a lot easier this time around," McDonald said. "I kind of have an idea of what to expect."
He is at a loss, however, to pinpoint the source of the pain, how or why it started. "I can't explain either one [of his sore elbows]," McDonald said. "I think it's a strength thing, getting the elbow used to throwing breaking balls and certain pitches. I think it's pretty well behind us."
Regan thinks McDonald is a victim of a common spring problem. "It's just spring training stiffness," Regan said. "I went through 17 spring trainings, and I don't think I ever didn't have one."
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond must feel the same way, because within 48 hours after McDonald's elbow forced him to be scratched from a workout last week, Hemond called McDonald into his office and asked the right-hander if he was interested in signing a long-term contract.
Absolutely, said McDonald, who is eligible for salary arbitration, and who could be a free agent after this year depending on the terms and timing of the next labor agreement.
"The most important thing to me . . . is to play on a winning team," McDonald said. "If it's a fair deal, I want to play on a winning team."
McDonald's agent, Scott Boras, expects the Orioles will make some sort of proposal very soon, perhaps in the next few days.
He could warm up yesterday feeling secure about his place in the organization, relaxed. McDonald breezed through the first inning without incident. A grounder to third, a couple of fly balls. Easy.
In the second inning, however, Phillies first baseman Dave Hollins and catcher Darren Daulton singled sharply, Daulton's shot up the middle nearly plugging McDonald. Third baseman Charlie Hayes singled home Hollins, and McDonald was floundering, his fastball running high and inside to right-handed hitters.
He walked two of the next three hitters. Another run scored. Pitching coach Mike Flanagan jogged to the mound.
McDonald settled down, striking out rookie Rick Holifield and retiring Mariano Duncan on a pop to short.
"He made the adjustment to his delivery on the last two hitters and he did fine," Flanagan said. "I just don't think you can read too much into these first games of spring."
Except for this: Ben McDonald is healthy, apparently, and if the Orioles intend to compete with the beasts of the AL East, that's big news.
Exhibition opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Fort Myers, Fla.
Time: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Arthur Rhodes vs. Red Sox pitcher to be announced.
UPS AND DOWNS
The good and the bad from the Orioles' 6-5 exhibition loss to the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday:
* Jesse Orosco threw two shutout innings.
* Rafael Palmeiro, Cal Ripken, Leo Gomez and Sherman Obando had two hits apiece.
* Damon Buford hit a long homer.
* Curtis Goodwin walked, singled and stole two bases in four plate appearances.
* Armando Benitez allowed three hits and a run in one-third of an inning, taking the loss; in 2 1/3 innings this spring, he's surrendered seven hits and four runs.
* Right fielder Sherman Obando lost a pop fly in the sun in the ninth inning, setting up the winning run.
* Ben McDonald was erratic in two innings of work, often pitching behind in the count. He allowed three hits, two walks and two runs.
* Designated hitter Harold Baines went 0-for-3, and is 1-for-8 (a home run) this spring.