Starters weary, O's to pitch out 4-man rotation Johnson's 'gut feeling' is to add fifth starter after Tigers series


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With signs that his starting pitchers are wearing down, Orioles manager Davey Johnson likely will return to a five-man rotation next week.

Johnson has employed a four-man rotation -- with Mike Mussina, David Wells, Scott Erickson and Rocky Coppinger pitching on three days' rest -- since the end of July, and the ploy seems to have helped the Orioles get back into the playoff race.

But Mussina came up stiff after pitching on three days' rest last week, Coppinger said he was tired at the start of a poor outing and 10-2 loss to California on Tuesday night, and Erickson has been inconsistent.

Johnson said yesterday that his "gut feeling is that I need a fifth starter. But we'll see where we are."

If Johnson decides to insert a fifth starter, the most obvious candidate is left-hander Rick Krivda, who is pitching for Triple-A Rochester in the International League playoffs tonight.

Left-hander David Wells will start the first game of the four-game series against Detroit tomorrow, followed by Mussina, Coppinger and Erickson. If Krivda is called up, he'd pitch the first game of the three-game series against Toronto, on four days' rest.

In the last 11 games before last night, Orioles' starters had pitched into the eighth inning only once, to the seventh inning five times, and five times they had lasted six innings or less. The Orioles' rotation had a cumulative 5.64 ERA when pitching on three days' rest, and a 7-4 record.

But the results have gradually worsened. In the first eight starts made on three days' rest, the starters had a 3.81 ERA and a 4-1 record. In the past eight starts on three days' rest, the Orioles had a 3-3 record and an 8.07 ERA.

Mussina started on three days' rest Aug. 28, and he says now his arm felt "terrible" and if Jimmy Haynes hadn't been inserted into the rotation to create an extra day of rest, Mussina isn't sure he would've been able to pitch on his scheduled day.

"It would've been very difficult, I think," Mussina said. "I felt bad. Probably the best way to describe it is as an ache -- it [his arm] ached all the time."

He says he feels fine now.

Coppinger pitched on three days' rest Tuesday and was awful, with no command of his fastball, and his velocity was down. He said afterward he felt fatigued as he took the mound in the first inning. "I don't know what it was," Coppinger said. "It might be the four-man [rotation] that hit me. I might've hit a brick wall today, I can't use that as an excuse."

The 22-year-old rookie also may be wearied from pitching this late into the summer for the first time in his life.

There is a potential down side, too, to inserting a fifth starter into the rotation. Mussina would get one less start, and may miss the crucial series against the New York Yankees on Sept. 17-19 and the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 24-25.

He would be in line, however, to pitch the first game of the AL playoffs.

The races

AL East

Team .. .. ..W .. ..L .. ..Pct. .. ..GB

New York . ..78 . ..61... .561 .. ...--

Orioles .. ..74 .. .65... .532 .. ...4

Boston .. ...72 .. .68... .514 .. ...6 1/2

AL wild card

Chicago .. ..76 .. .65... .539 .. ...--

Orioles .. ..74 .. .65... .532 .. .. .1

Seattle .. ..72 .. .67... .518 .. .. .3

Boston .. ...72 .. .68... .514 .. ...3 1/2

Minnesota ...70 .. .70... .500 .. ...5 1/2

Late O's game

Last night's Orioles-Angels game in Anaheim, Calif., did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800, ext. 5023.

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