There was reason to believe that Carl Pavano and Andy Pettitte would do what they did over the past two games, dropping the Yankee starters' collective ERA more than three runs from 9.97 to 6.75 over the course of 13 stellar innings, but, I have to say, I'm a lot less enthusiastic about what we might see from Mike Mussina tonight. Unlike Pavano or Pettitte, Moose wasn't hurt all that much by his defense in his first outing. Instead he was just plain roughed up, allowing eight hits, four of them doubles, walking three, and hitting a batter in a mere four innings. Moose allowed the Orioles to score in three of those four innings and in the lone exception he had runners on first and second and used up 21 pitches (and would have used more had Corey Patterson not laid down a successful sac bunt on the first pitch he saw). I suppose one could point to Moose's four strikeouts in those four innings and respectable 62 percent strike rate as positive signs, but after seeing the way he struggled through spring training, I'm not convinced.
On the other side of the ledger, the Twins are throwing Ramon Ortiz to the wolves. Ortiz is a better pitcher than Sidney Ponson, but that's not saying much. It's comical to recall that Ortiz was dubbed "Little Pedro" when he emerged with the Angels last century. Ortiz aged three years in one winter as a result of the post-9/11 crack down on documentation. That year he surrendered 40 home runs. The next he posted a 5.20 ERA. In 2004, he lost his rotation spot. Jumping to the National League in 2005, Ortiz spent the next two seasons in two wildly disparate pitching environments in Cincinnati and Washington and was lit up in both (his home and away splits confirming that his ability to suck was uneffected by his home environment). Giving up 31 homers in 33 games while playing your home games in RFK Stadium is a nifty trick and one that doesn't bode well for a pitcher facing the hottest offense in baseball (7.29 R/G) and the team tied for third in the majors in home runs.
Of course, Ortiz handled the Orioles in his last start (7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), but I'm more interested in what the Yankees did to him when they met in the nation's capitol last July, knocking him around for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings on eleven hits including homers by Jorge Posada and, you guessed it, Alex Rodriguez. That was the game in which Shawn Chacon, Matt Smith, T.J. Beam, Scott Proctor, and, shockingly, Mariano Rivera combined to blow a 9-2 lead. I don't expect tonight will be quite as ugly, but I think we're in store for another slugfest nonetheless. Fortunately, the Yankees have already taken the series (their first series win of the year), winning the first two games by a combined score of 18-3. They also have an off-day tomorrow, which means it could be all-in from their rebuilt bullpen, which posts the second-best bullpen ERA in the majors (1.27).