FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - They are both left-handed. They both love to play cards. Their lockers are side-by-side. They've both been ill. The lives of Kent Mercker and David Wells have been running along parallel lines the past couple of weeks.
"We're the only two who are sick," Mercker said, "so we're hanging out together."
Mercker and Wells each started against the Mets yesterday, Mercker in a morning B squad game and Wells in the afternoon A game, each with mixed results. Mercker pitched five hitless innings, but a recent flu bug sapped his endurance and his fastball was below par. Wells did some things well, needing just 56 pitches to throw six innings, but he allowed four homers and five runs in the Orioles' 9-6 victory.
"I think we're right on track now," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson, after acknowledging he was concerned because his starting rotation has been so fragmented in recent days (ace Mike Mussina missed more than two weeks with a strained stomach muscle). "We needed a day like today. They got their work in. I feel like, healthwise, we are where we're supposed to be."
Mercker, pitching for the first time in eight days, walked three and struck out one in his five innings, allowing no runs. Warming up in the bullpen before the game, he threw erratically, his fastball sailing high. As the game progressed, his command of pitches progressed and his velocity declined. His fastball dropped from 86 mph in the first inning to 80 mph in his fifth and final inning.
Mercker said afterward that his arm felt great but his legs felt fatigued. "My arm's Popeye," he said, "my legs are Olive Oyl."
No wonder: Mercker said that he thinks he picked up a flu-like ailment the last week of February and that he had lost seven pounds. Mercker worked out for more than a week with his condition, pitching twice.
Finally, he gave up and went to a local doctor, who checked him for bronchitis, pneumonia and mononucleosis before determining Mercker was suffering from a case of what the doctor referred to as "The Crud" "because that's how you feel," Mercker said.
"I just felt dizzy, and when I sweated it made it worse," Mercker said. "I felt like a turbulent airplane for about eight days.
"Today, I felt tired a little earlier than I normally do. That'll come when I get my energy back. This was a good day for me I needed that. . . . I need five or six more pounds. I'm just going to start eating everything in sight. It feels good to be hungry again."
Wells said it felt good to be pitching again, a week after he went through a frightening episode in which his heartbeat accelerated to nearly 200 beats per minute. On March 11, Wells checked into the hospital and had his heart rate reduced and tested, with doctors finding nothing out of the ordinary.
Somebody asked Wells if he was scared by the incident.
"Hell, yeah," he replied. "To deal with your heart, get admitted in the hospital and get shocked [part of the treatment required to reduce his heart rate]. I don't know what it was. They don't know what's going on. We'll see.
"It's in the back of my head, not knowing what it's from."
Doctors determined Wells' trouble was probably caused by something benign, such as a change in his allergy medicine or too much caffeine. "I don't take a lot of caffeine," he said. "I don't drink diet sodas. The worst thing was probably like iced tea."
Wells said he'll have more stress tests next week (although there may be some confusion in this, because club officials say there are no tests scheduled). In the meantime, he'll continue to prepare for his first start of the regular season, which is two weeks and two days away.
In his last start before yesterday, March 8 against the Atlanta Braves, Wells was hit hard and joked about it afterward. Facing the green-capped Mets on St. Patrick's Day, Wells pitched with a greater intensity. After allowing a second homer in the first inning, Wells turned and screamed something, furious with himself.
He settled, brought his pitches down in the strike zone and pitched four shutout innings from the second to the fifth. At the end of the fifth, he tried to convince pitching coach Pat Dobson to leave him in for the seventh inning. Dobson told him he could if Wells retired the side with six pitches in the sixth inning.
Wells threw five pitches to get out the first two hitters in the sixth and then allowed two consecutive homers and an infield hit. Dobson walked to the mound.
"You were just one pitch away," Dobson said, grinning. "Now, can you just get one out and get out of this inning?"
Wells burst out laughing, and finished out the sixth. Like Mercker's no-hit pitching line, Wells' line 10 hits and five runs was a little deceptive. He threw well in the middle innings before fading in the sixth, and all pitchers, the Mets' included, were victimized by a strong wind, blowing out to left, that aided hitters.
"I got the ball up at times," Wells said, "and you saw what happened. . . . The biggest problem was location. That's why they were hitting it."
Ups and downs
Highlights and lowlights from the Orioles' 9-6 win over the New York Mets yesterday:
Bobby Bonilla tagged his first Grapefruit League home run to deep center field. Bonilla went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and singled to all fields. Chris Hoiles also hit his first homer of the spring, a bases-empty shot to left field in the second inning. Keith Shepherd picked up his team-high third save by pitching a hitless ninth inning with one strikeout.
Kent Mercker held New York hitless for five innings in the B game, a 2-0 win.
David Wells gave up four home runs, 10 hits and five runs in six innings of work in the A game. Jason LaCanfora
Pub Date: 3/18/96