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Mussina passes final exam, is set to return Finger improved enough that he can start Sunday


CHICAGO -- Mike Mussina gave the Orioles a much-needed bounce before yesterday's game against the Chicago White Sox. His 15-minute bullpen session confirmed that the Orioles ace will leave the 15-day disabled list Sunday and make a scheduled start against the Minnesota Twins.

The side session was Mussina's third since a ruptured wart landed him on the disabled list April 17. It also was the first time he endured an entire session without covering his affected right index finger. The area, twice frozen during removal of the wart, still isn't completely healed but Mussina has regained sufficient feel to again throw breaking pitches without pain.

"As far as I can tell I think it is taken care of," Mussina said. "As far as I can tell now. It looks good to me the way it's healing. It's not perfect."

Mussina initially had hoped to give the finger enough time to completely heal. However, the team's recent 4-11 tumble led to greater urgency for his return. Mussina quoted doctors as saying at least three weeks would have been necessary for the finger to totally heal. He couldn't rule out the chance of another, less severe rupture.

"It's basically a scab. Scabs tend to do that once in a while," he said.

Mussina fashioned a 2-2 start and 3.21 ERA despite pitching with pain so severe that he often refused to throw his curveball. Asked if he still experiences pain when he pitches, Mussina said, "Pain is a harsh word. It's uncomfortable sometimes. But it was extremely uncomfortable before. If I couldn't throw the pitch I want, I wouldn't be going out there."

The Orioles' slide roughly coincides with Mussina's absence. The subsequent loss of Scott Kamieniecki with a strained groin and elbow inflammation only aggravated an already fragile situation.

"We came out of the chute and pitched great. The starters pitched great. The bullpen pitched great. And we went 10-2. Then we didn't pitch well and lost 11 out of 14," Mussina said. "I'm just waiting to get out of April. We'll go on from there and hopefully play better baseball."

Charlton black and blue

Little more than 12 hours after being smoked by a Frank Thomas line drive, reliever Norm Charlton returned to the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday morning and declared himself fit for duty.

Charlton suffered a nondisplaced fracture of his nose, received four stitches and sported two swollen and purpled eyes. Despite looking as if he had sparred 10 rounds with Evander Holyfield, Charlton insisted that pain and swollen features wouldn't hinder him.

"I can pitch," Charlton said, though still wearing a Band-Aid over the split area on his nose.

Orioles manager Ray Miller disagreed with Charlton being available and even suggested that the left-hander might have been placed on the disabled list if not for the bullpen's already critical situation. Charlton probably won't appear against the Twins this weekend.

Charlton watched a replay of the ugly incident, which briefly knocked him down and left his nose gushing blood over his uniform. Charlton considered the pitch to Thomas a good one. Fooled on a ball down and away, the White Sox's massive designated hitter offered a half-swing but still laced the ball off Charlton's glove and into his nose.

This is not the first time Charlton took a shot to the head. While with the Philadelphia Phillies, he was hit in the face by a line drive by San Diego Padres outfielder Steve Finley and suffered a fractured sinus cavity. He pitched three days later. "It was about the same as this one," Charlton said.

Around the horn

Wednesday night's power surge against the White Sox represented the first time since April 1 the Orioles had homered three times in a game and the first time since April 15 they had hit more than one. After hitting 15 home runs in their first 13 games, the Orioles had produced only five in 12 games entering Wednesday. They hit five in the first 12 innings against the White Sox. The Orioles' six home runs allowed Wednesday night was their worst beating since giving up six on Sept. 14, 1987, when they allowed a major-league record 10 to the Toronto Blue Jays. The only other time the club surrendered six home runs was June 10, 1959. In the Orioles' 13 losses, they have had the tying run on base or at the plate in the ninth inning seven times. Miller and second baseman Jeff Reboulet celebrated birthdays yesterday. Miller turned 53, Reboulet 34. Miller got his first win in five days. Reboulet got his second start since April 11. About 4,000 tickets are left for tonight's 7: 05 game against the Twins, and 2,400 and 4,200 remain for tomorrow and Sunday, respectively.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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