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Mussina gets nod to start opener, if he can find jersey

THE BALTIMORE SUN

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Orioles manager Phil Regan made it official, announcing that right-hander Mike Mussina will start the season opener against Kansas City next week.

All indications are Mussina is ready. He shut out Philadelphia for three innings yesterday in the Orioles' 8-6 exhibition loss, giving up two hits and striking out five, and he completed an annual rite of spring.

Seems that every year, Mussina forgets his No. 35 jersey, and yesterday, he did it again. He wore No. 47 instead. "When I got here today and realized I had forgotten my shirt," Mussina said, "I knew everything was back to normal.

"Lee Smith's number -- it was appropriate, anyway [with the five strikeouts]."

Mussina said Regan told him on the third day of camp that he would start Opening Day, assuming that he remained healthy.

Regan said grinning, "It was kind of a secret."

Yeah, sort of like Joe Montana's retirement.

Sid is even slimmer

And the weight loss just keeps on coming: Regan said that left-hander Sid Fernandez, who reported at 225 pounds, is down to 222. "His goal is to get to 220," Regan said.

Benitez gets slammed

Regan wasn't happy with Armando Benitez after the rookie reliever allowed a game-winning grand slam to the Phillies' Craig Worthington yesterday.

Benitez is 0-2 and has pitched miserably in his first three outings of spring training -- an ominous development for the Orioles, because Regan is counting on him to be the right-handed setup man for closer Doug Jones.

"I'm concerned," Regan said. "Not so much with his stuff, but how he sometimes loses his poise out there. He gets frustrated, and instead of concentrating to work out of a jam, he tries to throw harder than before."

Regan is disappointed, too, because Benitez has pitched poorly three times, "and he pitched in winter ball and supposedly should be ahead of everybody else."

If Benitez doesn't improve, the Orioles could move Alan Mills into the setup role and use Benitez in middle relief. It's not inconceivable, either, that the Orioles could start the year with Scott Klingenbeck in middle relief and Benitez at Triple-A Rochester, until he sorts through his problems.

Hammonds more than OK

Every once in a while, Regan asks Jeffrey Hammonds how his surgically reconstructed right knee is doing, and Hammonds smiles as he always smiles and tells Regan he's OK.

Yesterday, he showed Regan his knee is getting better, blasting a long three-run homer in the third inning.

"Hammonds is doing well," Regan said afterward. "He's doing really well."

Hammonds said: "I hope I answered some questions. . . . I wouldn't be playing if I couldn't do these things."

Hammonds woke up yesterday morning and his knee was sore. But, he says, it's always sore. "I realize that's just part of the aftermath of surgery," he said. "With that in mind, I know that every day is going to be different. It didn't feel great, but then again, it didn't feel any different than it has."

A play in Hammonds' third plate appearance impressed Regan more than the homer. In the top of the fifth, Hammonds hit a chopper over the mound. Phillies second baseman Mariano Duncan ranged to his right, grabbed the ball at the bag and looked quickly to third to see if he had a shot at Brady Anderson.

He didn't, so Duncan threw to first, his throw slightly off-line. No matter -- Hammonds, running swiftly, had the throw beaten easily.

"I'm very pleased with what I did today," Hammonds said.

A walk on wild side

It was a breakthrough day for left-hander Brad Pennington as well. He walked the bases loaded in the fourth inning, and went to a full count on Phillies catcher Darren Daulton. Pennington threw a slider across the inside corner of the plate for strike three, and followed that by whiffing Jim Eisenreich.

"I was just trying to get in a game situation," Pennington joked.

After that first inning, Regan told Pennington to make sure he threw with correct mechanics. "He told me, 'Don't worry about where it goes,' " Pennington said. " 'Just do it right.' "

Pennington retired the Phillies in order in the fifth.

The left-hander also was helped by a visit to the mound from catcher Matt Nokes. "After Nokes came out," Pennington said, "it was like everything worked. Maybe he should come out after every pitch."

Around the horn

Orioles outfielder Jim Wawruck, likely headed to Triple-A Rochester later this week, said he felt his right (non-throwing) shoulder pop in and out of joint as he took batting practice yesterday. "I'm not sure exactly what happened," said Wawruck. "I'm glad it happened to my other shoulder." . . . Designated hitter Harold Baines was a late scratch, after he felt a twinge of pain in his right shoulder during batting practice. "It's no big deal," said Baines, adding that if the regular season was in progress, it was the type of injury he would play through. . . . Pitcher Ben McDonald said his elbow felt fine after throwing two innings on Sunday.

Regan and his coaching staff will meet in Fort Myers tonight to decide who makes the team. The addition of Andy Van Slyke would make it virtually impossible for Damon Buford and Curtis Goodwin to both make the team. It's possible that Greg Zaun will be kept as a third catcher until the rosters are reduced from 28 to 25 on May 15. . . . Kevin Bass and Van Slyke are expected to play against the Twins today. . . . The Orioles (3-3) have made just one error in their first six exhibition games.

Bench coach Chuck Cottier carried the Orioles' lineup to the plate instead of Regan yesterday. Regan has said he may make that change permanent. . . . At 11:45 Sunday morning, a couple of hours before the Orioles play host to the Phillies in an exhibition at Camden Yards, the Orioles players will disperse around the ballpark and sign autographs. After the game, all those 14 years of age and under will be welcome to run around the bases.

UPS AND DOWNS

The good and the bad from the Orioles' 8-6 exhibition loss to the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday:

HIGHLIGHTS

* Mike Mussina threw three shutout innings, allowing two hits, no runs, no walks, and struck out five.

* Right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds hit a long three-run homer and zTC beat out an infield hit.

* First baseman Rafael Palmeiro and third baseman Leo Gomez hit bases-empty homers.

* Left-hander Brad Pennington pitched himself into and then out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning, striking out Darren Daulton and Jim Eisenreich in succession.

LOWLIGHTS

* Reliever Armando Benitez was awful for the third straight time, forcing in a run with one of his two walks and then allowing a grand slam to former Orioles infielder Craig Worthington. Benitez is 0-2 with a 20.25 ERA this spring, giving up eight hits and two walks.

* Reliever Jesse Orosco walked three hitters with a 5-3 lead in the eighth, setting up the Phillies' five-run eighth inning.

* Reliever Joe Borowski was tagged for three hits and three runs, all scoring when Tony Longmire crushed a three-run homer in the seventh.

* Collectively, the bullpen blew a 5-0 lead and gave up four hits and eight walks in five innings.

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