Hernandez may sub for sore Mussina

Updated: July 11, 2004, 1:15 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Orlando Hernandez probably will return to the New York Yankees sooner than expected.

Orlando Hernandez

There is a strong possibility El Duque will start for the Yankees on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in place of Mike Mussina, a team official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mussina still felt some soreness Saturday after pitching on three days' rest Tuesday night against the Detroit Tigers. It was Mussina's idea to go on short rest so he could make two starts before the All-Star game and avoid a long layoff before his first start after the break.

But the move may have backfired. Now Mussina (9-6) might not be able to make that second start, ensuring a lengthy layoff and creating an opportunity for El Duque.

Hernandez was scratched from his scheduled rehabilitation start Saturday for Triple-A Columbus, and the Yankees made travel plans for him to come to New York. If he arrives in time and feels ready to pitch, he probably would start Sunday, the official said.

Hernandez, believed to be 38, had been expected to make at least one more rehabilitation start for Columbus before the Yankees considered whether to activate him. Even if it's just for one day, he would join a struggling rotation that includes fellow Cuban Jose Contreras.

It would be Hernandez's first major league appearance since 2002. He spent last year on Montreal's disabled list, missing the entire season after getting hurt in spring training.

The right-hander had shoulder surgery in May 2003 to repair a small tear in his rotator cuff. He returned to the Yankees in March, signing a $500,000, one-year contract.

After defecting from Cuba, Hernandez joined the Yankees for the 1998 season and helped them to three straight World Series titles and four AL pennants in five years. He was 53-38 with a 4.04 ERA in the regular season and 9-3 with a 2.51 ERA in the postseason, winning the 1999 AL championship series MVP Award.

New York traded him to the White Sox on Jan. 15, 2003, for right-handers Antonio Osuna and Delvis Lantigua. Chicago then dealt him the same day to the Expos with right-hander Rocky Biddle and outfielder Jeff Liefer for right-hander Bartolo Colon and infielder Jorge Nunez.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press