The veteran right-hander will make his fourth start since coming back from an elbow injury when the Yankees continue their weekend series with the visiting Baltimore Orioles.
Along with Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez, Mussina was supposed to be at the core of a New York rotation that was expected to be as good as any in baseball. However, injuries, inconsistency and lately, stupidity, have plagued the rotation. And the Yankees suddenly find themselves in a serious race for the AL East title.
The Yankees’ lead over Boston, 10 1/2 games in mid-August, is down to 2 1/2 following Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Orioles, and the Red Sox’s 2-0 win over Texas.
After allowing three runs in six innings, a frustrated Brown broke his left hand punching a wall in the locker room. It is unknown how long Brown will miss as the Yankees will send him to a hand specialist on Saturday.
All the more reason why Mussina has to rediscover the form that has made him one of the best pitchers in the American League for years. Mussina is 0-2 with a 7.03 ERA in three starts since returning Aug. 18 following a six-week absence due to elbow discomfort.
Overall, the 35-year-old right-hander is 0-4 with an 8.02 ERA in five starts dating to a win over the New York Mets on June 29. Mussina has given up 11 home runs in his last 37 1-3 innings.
On Sunday, Mussina looked as if he was about to turn a corner and get back to being the pitcher that has won 208 games and has a 3.61 ERA in 14 major league seasons. He carried the lead and a two-hitter into the seventh inning against Toronto before the Blue Jays touched him up for five runs in the Yankees’ eventual 6-4 loss.
“I just didn’t do it. That’s the frustrating part. I pitched well for six innings, but it looks like I didn’t pitch well at all when it’s all said and done,” said Mussina, who added that his health is no longer a concern.
Yankees manager Joe Torre was actually encouraged by the outing, Mussina’s longest since throwing eight innings in a win over Texas on June 6.
“He’s getting stronger,” Torre said.
The Orioles, who have won five straight following a 12-game losing streak, will give the ball to Sidney Ponson. The hard-throwing right-hander dazzled the Yankees on July 29, tossing a four-hitter with five strikeouts and no walks in a 9-1 win at Yankee Stadium.