Mussina on way back to 15-day DL Grateful to have escaped more serious damage, ace needs time to heal


The Orioles likely will place Mike Mussina on the 15-day disabled list before tomorrow's series opener against the New York Yankees after doctors suggested that the All-Star pitcher miss the team's upcoming cross-country road trip to recover from injuries suffered Thursday night.

Wearing protective sunglasses that cover a deep bruise and about 30 stitches above his right eye, Mussina spoke to reporters yesterday for the first time since he took a line drive to the head against the Cleveland Indians.

Mussina joked, reflected and explained. But most of all, he sounded grateful that the terrifying shot off Sandy Alomar's bat left him with nothing more serious than a broken nose and a date with the plastic surgeon.

"It could've taken my nose off. It could have blown my eye socket out. It could have hit me in the mouth. It could have hit me in the temple," Mussina said. "I could be done playing. I could be dead. That ball was going 100-plus miles per hour and it hit me in the head."

Mussina, who never lost consciousness, underwent a CT scan and X-rays at University Hospital shortly after being wheeled from the clubhouse on a stretcher. Results showed no fracture of his sinuses and no damage to the orbital sockets around his eyes. Mussina also disputed a suggestion that he had suffered a mild concussion. He said "about 90 percent" of his stitches are above the eye.

"It doesn't feel too bad. It's uncomfortable but I'm not dying," said Mussina, who took time to rib first base coach Carlos Bernhardt about being hit above his right eye while warming up Scott Erickson between innings Saturday night.

Mussina still experiences throbbing in his face when he walks. Bending over is tough, but sleeping is no longer difficult.

Swelling has prevented doctors from repairing his broken nose. A time for that will be decided this week while the club departs on an eight-game trip to New York, Oakland and Seattle. "It would be safe to say I'm going to stay here. That would be a safe guess," he said.

The Orioles likely will promote a pitcher from Triple-A Rochester. fTC Nerio Rodriguez was optioned last week and could return, possibly as tomorrow night's starter. Manager Ray Miller also could assign Mussina's turn to rookie Sidney Ponson or veteran Bobby Munoz.

"We still have to talk about it," Miller said after yesterday's 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Saying he never saw the ball that struck him, Mussina watched the stomach-turning video of the incident once. "One time was enough," he said.

A two-time Gold Glove winner, Mussina was defenseless against Alomar's bolt. He avoided perhaps catastrophic injury by slightly ducking his head at the last millisecond. The reflex caused the ball to strike him above the eye instead of inside the socket.

"I didn't see the ball at all. I heard him hit it. And then it hit me. And both things happened in about a second, and probably less," Mussina said.

This season has been one of extremes for Mussina. Healthy, he has pitched brilliantly, compiling a 4-2 record and 2.52 ERA in seven starts. But the coming roster move represents his second stay on the disabled list. A ruptured wart on his right index finger forced him to miss three starts after going down April 17. He returned May 3, immediately amassing 18 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

While the wart left a small physical scar, Thursday's incident is the kind that has stayed with other pitchers. Mussina is optimistic he can shed the memory along with the stitches.

"I hope it wouldn't change anything," he said. "I've been pitching for a long time. Not just at this level. There's always a chance a pitch is going to come back and hit you. I don't really think it's going to change anything. I'm just waiting until the doctors feel good about me getting back out there to throw. Hopefully, sooner than later."

Pub Date: 5/18/98

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