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Wild Moose at a loss

Thursday August 8, 2002

By almost every account, including his own, Mike Mussina is in perfect health. And he says he hasn't lost his confidence or his faith in any of his pitches.

"I don't think I am throwing bad pitches and I don't think I have shown a proclivity to throwing certain pitches in certain situations," he said. "I haven't figured this out, only that I am disappointed by how things are going."

Mussina had his third straight poor outing in Tuesday night's 6-2 loss to the Royals at the Stadium. He was tagged for a career-worst 14 hits over seven innings. In his last three outings, against the Devil Rays, Rangers and Royals, he has allowed 16runs on 34 hits over 16 innings. His record may be 13-6, but his ERA is 4.90.

"This is probably the longest stretch like this I've had," Mussina said yesterday. "The whole 1996 season wasn't very good, but no one stretch was like this."

In 1996, Mussina finished 19-11 with a 4.81 ERA; it tied his season-high for wins, but was his worst ERA.

How did he snap out of that one? "The season finally ended," he said. "Sometimes you get away from the game and everything comes back for you. Sometimes, you keep after it to get it to come back."

Hitters are not keying on one specific pitch and neither Mussina, Joe Torre nor pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre believes there is something in his delivery that tells hitters what pitch is coming. "It's the first thing we look for," Mussina said. "I think we have enough guys here who know about what's going on so that they'd tell me if that was the case. We've looked for it."

One major league scout said he did not see Mussina tipping pitches, but that he may be shying away from certain pitches, specifically his knuckle curve. "I'm not seeing him use that pitch as much as I expected," the scout said. "I don't think that explains anything, but it is one less thing for hitters to look for."

Another scout said: "I read that he feels fine physically, but his velocity has varied from game to game. (Against Texas) his top speed wasn't what it usually is, which might make people think something's hurt. On Tuesday night, his velocity was back, so maybe that's not the case."

"I am exactly where I always am at this time of year physically," Mussina said. "One game in Texas? That happens. My velocity was good (Tuesday) and my ball had life."

Always the bulldog, Mussina insists that Torre keep sending him out so he might work through the problems. In going over 130 pitches, Tuesday night represented his longest outing. And in not surrendering a run in the sixth or seventh, he felt like there was something positive to take away from it.

"It's not anything I can see he's doing (physically)," Jorge Posada said. "He's not tipping his pitches. He had some positive things yesterday and he can build on that. When I talked to him (yesterday), he was already looking forward to his bullpen session."

With tipping pitches and injury ruled out, that leaves the mental aspect of his game, which many feel is his strongest attribute. "It's definitely more mental than physical," Stottlemyre said. "He's just making bad pitches, which is what they are hitting. A pitch that doesn't stay down. A pitch too far over the plate. The balls that are being hit hard are ones that should be.

"I don't think his confidence is high, but I don't think he's beaten to a pulp either. It's not my main concern."


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