When manager Ray Miller said earlier this week that he was projecting Mike Mussina to start tomorrow's game against Cleveland, he stressed that the assignment was written in pencil.
Yesterday, Miller broke out the eraser.
Mussina hasn't been given medical clearance to begin throwing, causing him to miss a third consecutive start because of a bruised right shoulder and further sabotaging his quest for a first 20-win season.
Mussina hasn't thrown off a mound since being struck by a line drive during an Aug. 22 game against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards. The extent of his activity has been playing catch in the outfield. Asked yesterday when he'd be ready, Mussina said, "When it stops hurting."
Club orthopedist Dr. Michael Jacobs informed general manager Frank Wren on Wednesday that Mussina shouldn't attempt to pitch. Instead, the Orioles will give Doug Linton his fifth start this season in what Miller called "a bullpen day."
"They don't want [Mussina] to throw until he doesn't feel anything," Miller said, adding that there's been no consideration of shutting down his ace for the rest of the season.
"If he goes another 10 days or something without throwing, then you'd be concerned. He is playing catch every day. It's just, when you get up on the mound and don't feel anything when the ball leaves your hand, then you're ready to go. We certainly don't want him to favor anything."
Mussina remains five wins shy of 20. Miller projected yesterday that Mussina, if able to take his next turn, would have five starts left.
"Kind of narrows it down, doesn't it?" Miller said.
Linton is 0-2 with a 6.62 ERA in 10 games. He has made two starts since being recalled from Rochester on Aug. 20, allowing nine earned runs and 20 hits in 10 2/3 innings. Working on three days' rest in his last start Aug. 24, Linton allowed six runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings against Kansas City. Opponents are hitting .317 against him.
Shoulder sidelines Anderson
More changes came to the Orioles' outfield yesterday, but not by design.
Brady Anderson was slated to start again in left field, but had to be scratched during batting practice because of stiffness in his left shoulder. He was replaced by Derrick May, who made his first start in the field since having his contract purchased from Rochester on Aug. 21. He served twice as designated hitter in Detroit last week.
Anderson said he jammed the shoulder "a little" while making a diving catch to open the first inning of Wednesday's game. He walked in his first at-bat, then struck out three times.
Miller decided to hold Anderson out of the lineup to assure he'd be ready tonight. Anderson is 5-for-17 with a homer against Indians starter Chris Haney.
Delino DeShields replaced Anderson atop the order, with May batting fifth. But DeShields left the game in the sixth with what the club described as "lower abdominal discomfort" after diving for a grounder by John Flaherty. He was checked by trainer Richie Bancells and remained in the game for one more hitter, then walked off the field and was replaced by Jeff Reboulet.
Eugene Kingsale made his third start in center field, as the Orioles continue to evaluate his skills before deciding whether he's ready to play in the majors or be of better use as trade bait.
"He's a live body, he's got speed. We'll see if he can use it," Miller said of Kingsale, who is 2-for-12 at the plate, 0-for-2 in steal attempts and has been doubled off second base.
"He hasn't gotten particularly good jumps yet, but I'm sure he's a little nervous. He's gotten stronger, that's for sure," Miller said.
Johns starting over
On the surface, at least, Doug Johns is treating his return to a starting role with a minimum of excitement.
Johns has made two starts since Mussina left the rotation, allowing four runs and 12 hits in 11 2/3 innings. He scored points with Miller for his last start Wednesday, when he held Tampa Bay to one run and four hits in 6 2/3 innings.
"He's really impressed me," Miller said. "His velocity is up. The concern in the organization was he's a mid-80s guy, he doesn't throw that hard. But since the tail end of last year, he's 90, 91. He's added a cutter and two different kinds of breaking balls."
Johns' first 25 appearances had come in relief. He made 10 starts among his 31 appearances last season.
So, how does it feel to be starting for the final month of a season that included a brief demotion to Rochester and no apparent interest from the club in removing him from the bullpen until now?
"I just prepared myself for whatever they needed me for," Johns said.
So much for being giddy.
Asked if Johns' remaining starts also would serve as an audition for next season, Miller deferred such decisions to Wren.
"I'm sure for Frank and the organization, if he continues to pitch that way it's going to be a consideration," Miller said. 'You're always looking for lefties. I've said Doug would be a decent fifth starter. For sure, he's a great middle guy. The way he's pitched the last two games, you have to think he's a little bit better than that."
Johns isn't looking too far ahead. "I'm just trying to go out and win games and help the team," he said. "I'll worry about next year before spring training."
Home team cooking
The Oriole Wives found a smart way to publicize their new cookbook, "Orioles Bird Feed" -- through the stomachs of reporters who were allowed to sample some recipes on the warning track in front of the home dugout during batting practice.
Polly Surhoff, Michelle Amaral, Anne Marie Kison, Dawn Timlin, Rhonda Johnson, Beth Perlozzo and Nancy Ebel were among the wives serving up the delicacies, which included chicken and pasta dishes, a cold broccoli salad and a wide assortment of desserts.
Fans can purchase the cookbook at the ballpark and selected area stores, or by calling 1-888-624-2473 or 410-685-9800.