The Orioles reduced their roster to 28 players yesterday by placing left-handed pitcher Jim Poole on the 15-day disabled list, optioning outfielder Luis Mercedes to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings and out-righting infielder Juan Bell to the same club.
None of the moves came as a major surprise, although the Orioles had feared Bell would be claimed on waivers, and Mercedes expressed disappointment.
"It's fine, I'll take it," Mercedes said after emerging from a long meeting with manager John Oates.
"He wouldn't be human if he wasn't disappointed. There's a lot of great things going on here," said Mike Powers, who represents Mercedes and was on hand when the news came. "He was in a tough situation here -- he'll go down and wait his turn."
Oates had nothing but praise for Mercedes, who batted .250 while playing in 26 of 28 exhibition games. The manager would not be specific about what he said to Mercedes, but said the outfielder took the news well.
"We just talked," said Oates, who prefers his conversations with players to remain private. "I have nothing but good things to say about him -- both on and off the field.
"I'm a firm believer that there's a time and place for everything -- but it's just not the time for him right now. He's a talented young man.
"With the makeup of our club, I want to use Brady [Anderson] in left field because of his speed," said Oates. "And I want to let Chito [Martinez], Joe [Orsulak] and David [Segui] play right field in our park.
"Luis needs to play every day to get better in every phase of his game. He's a nervous wreck when he's on the bench, and it wouldn't help him to stay here. In the long run, this [the demotion] will pay off.
"I'm proud of where he's taken his life," Oates said of the speedy outfielder, who has had some off-field difficulties in his brief career. "He has the confidence that he's ready to play in the big leagues now, and I like that. But I think this is best for him -- he's not the first player to go back after having a good year."
Bob Milacki, who started the last game at Memorial Stadium, had brief flashbacks in the first inning of yesterday's exhibition game against the New York Mets.
Milacki allowed four runs in the first inning against the Tigers on Oct. 6, and the Mets scored twice against him in the first inning yesterday. "I thought about that -- and my last start [Sunday in Miami, when he gave up five runs in the first inning]," said Milacki.
"But after that [the first inning] I threw the ball pretty good."
Milacki allowed only those two runs in five innings, striking out four, giving up four hits and walking one.
McDonald in Washington
Ben McDonald gets his final exhibition tuneup today, when the Orioles face the Boston Red Sox at Washington's RFK Stadium.
McDonald, who is scheduled to pitch the third game of the season, Thursday night against Cleveland, is 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA five spring-training appearances. Left-hander Joe Hesketh is the scheduled starter for the Red Sox.
Final cuts ahead
The Orioles still have to let three players go before Monday's opener. Barring a late trade, which seems unlikely, pitchers Alan Mills and Jim Lewis most likely will be sent to Rochester.
The other decision involves Rick Dempsey and Jeff Tackett, who are battling for the job as catcher Chris Hoiles' backup. Tackett has a .438 batting average (7-for-16), and Dempsey has hit only ** .136 (3-22).
Oates hasn't indicated whether he prefers experience or youth. The last cuts are not expected to be made until tomorrow.