Light outing lifts Mussina's hopes; Return next week possible if O's ace has no setbacks; Ponson, J. Johnson to rest


Though Mike Mussina suggested last week that he might end his season if the discomfort in his bruised right shoulder persists, manager Ray Miller isn't ready to concede anything.

Neither, it seems, is his ace.

Mussina threw lightly in the bullpen Sunday for the first time since being hit on the shoulder by a line drive on Aug. 22. It was a casual session; the proper attire on this day included sneakers instead of spikes.

"Hopefully, we'll get Moose back around the Oakland series and give him four starts and a possible fifth on three days' rest," Miller said, looking ahead to the three games against the Athletics at Camden Yards that begin next Tuesday. Five starts would give Mussina (15-7) a shot at his first 20-win year.

"I'm not saying he's going to start against Oakland," Miller said, "but you look at the amount of days and you say, 'Well, if he throws tomorrow, takes a day off and throws again -- maybe twice in Minnesota and once during the Seattle series, then perhaps he could be ready by the first game against Oakland.' That's just tentative. I haven't even talked to him about that yet. We'll see."

Mussina agreed that the Oakland series was a possibility, under one very important condition.

"That's fair, if I don't have any setbacks," he said. "I was a little sore today, but that was the first time I was able to throw hard enough to get it to the plate on a line, basically. I wasn't trying to do too much. I was just trying to see if I could stand up there and throw."

Mussina said he'll do another session before tonight's game in Minnesota. "I'll put a little more effort into it. It all depends on how I recover from it," he said.

Ponson, Johnson skip turns

Miller plans to tweak the rotation by having Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson each skip a turn to freshen up.

Ponson has thrown 187 1/3 innings, easily surpassing his single-season high of 140 last season. And Johnson has thrown 141 2/3, including 97 1/3 with the Orioles after beginning the season at Triple-A Rochester.

"I'd like to give Ponson a pause, and I'd like to do the same thing with Johnson after his next start. It just seems like the right thing to do," Miller said.

"Both of these kids are young and they've got a high future, and it would be kind of silly to be pumping them out there every five days if they look like they're wearing down. Take a week and just relax. Hopefully, that will help them."

Miller also said Doug Linton would get another start after holding Cleveland to one run and four hits over seven innings in a 3-1 victory -- his first in the majors since 1996. And left-hander Doug Johns earned more chances after shutting out the Indians through six innings yesterday.

Prized left-hander Matt Riley threw in the bullpen yesterday in preparation for his first start in Minnesota on Thursday. Miller said he'll space Riley's starts to give him "five or six days off" and avoid further taxing an arm that the 20-year-old said was "wearing down a little."

"It'll freshen up," Miller said. "When you walk out here, it'll freshen up."

Miller's expectations for Riley are guarded. "In my mind, if he goes out and pitches five real good innings, I want to get him out of there. Give him four or five or six days off and do it again. Let him see the big leagues and get his feet on the ground. I don't want him to overextend himself."

To make room for Riley on the roster, the Orioles transferred Will Clark from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.

Molina more relaxed

If Miller had needed a long reliever, his choice would have been rookie Gabe Molina, who arrived in the clubhouse yesterday after being summoned from Rochester. He drove here from Buffalo, N.Y., where the Red Wings concluded their season.

Molina, 24, has worked mostly as a closer during his professional career, but is willing to fill whatever role is offered. As it turned out, he wasn't needed until the ninth, with the Orioles trailing 7-4.

This is Molina's third tour of duty with the Orioles this season, the most recent ending on July 16. He was 0-0 with a 4.15 ERA in six games in his first stint, from April 30 to May 21, and 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA and one blown save during his second call-up.

"This time is a little more relaxed," he said. "You know all the guys and you know pretty much what you have to do, what the daily routine is. That helps a lot, when you know what you have to face.

"I'm definitely thrilled I got a chance to come back and try to prove that I can help the team out next year and earn a spot in the bullpen. I definitely think I'm ready."

Molina went 2-2 with a 3.14 ERA and 18 saves at Rochester this season after setting a franchise record at Double-A Bowie with 24 saves and being named the organization's Pitcher of the Year.

"I definitely prefer closing," he said. "That's something I've had success with and I have a lot of fun being in a game late in pressure situations -- bases loaded, up by one run."

Mascot mayhem

A New Jersey man has filed a $35 million lawsuit against the Oriole Bird, claiming the mascot roughed him up.

Vincent Minervini of Keansburg, N.J., alleges that an Orioles mascot, Jeff Gartner, struck him with his tail, pushed him in the chest and took his property without permission.

"Kind of reminds me of Jimmy Carter and the rabbit," Orioles owner Peter Angelos told the Daily Record, referring to the former president's mishap with a bunny during a canoe trip.

In his lawsuit, Minervini names two escorts, two policemen and an usher who he claims manhandled him and falsely arrested him during a May 1997 home game against the New York Mets. The Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority also are named in the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Around the horn

B.J. Surhoff started in left field for the first time since Aug. 31. He had served as the designated hitter the past five games. Derrick May filled that role yesterday. Left-hander Jesse Orosco had prevented his last 19 inherited runners from scoring, dating back to June 23, until giving up an RBI single to Roberto Alomar in the eighth inning. The Indians activated catcher Sandy Alomar from the 60-day disabled list and designated former Orioles left-hander Jim Poole for assignment. In addition to Molina and Riley, the Orioles also recalled first baseman Calvin Pickering, infielder Jesse Garcia and added Rochester manager Dave Machemer as a coach.

Pub Date: 9/07/99

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