Pounded Mercker not heavy O's worry Johnson pleased all 'throwing ball well'

March 27, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Manager Davey Johnson does not have many secrets left. He announced his regular-season starting rotation yesterday -- as if there were ever any mystery about that -- and left little doubt about the makeup of the Opening Day roster.

Mike Mussina will be on the mound when the Orioles open the season against the Kansas City Royals on Monday at Camden Yards. David Wells will pitch the second game and Scott Erickson the series finale.

"You can probably figure out the rest of it from there," Johnson deadpanned.

Yes, you can. Left-hander Kent Mercker, who dodged line drives for five innings during yesterday's 9-8, 10-inning, exhibition loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, will pitch the fourth game and Mussina will make his second start before rookie Jimmy Haynes makes his 1996 debut on April 7. This is all, of course, weather permitting.

"I feel like it's starting to take shape," Johnson said. "We're getting the work we need to get in and getting people stretched out the way we want. Sometimes, the results haven't been as good as you'd like, but everybody's starting to throw the ball well."

Mercker was a perfect example. He gave up six runs (four earned) on eight hits yesterday, but Johnson and catcher Chris Hoiles said afterward that it was the best he's thrown this spring. He'll make one more exhibition appearance on Saturday at Oriole Park before making his Orioles' regular-season debut against the Minnesota Twins on April 5.

"Mercker threw the ball a lot better than he has this spring, but he still was erratic with some of his pitches," Johnson said. "He'll get one more chance, and if he shows the same kind of improvement, he's going to be fine."

Though the veteran left-hander couldn't hide his frustration on the mound, Mercker said he is happy with the way his arm feels -- especially after a debilitating bout with the flu earlier this month. He expects to be ready to throw 100 or more pitches in his first regular-season start.

"I could have thrown over 100 pitches today," Mercker said. "I wasn't tired. It feels good to get stretched out like that."

The Orioles were just glad to get him back alive. The Dodgers hit the ball hard, and catcher Mike Piazza almost took Mercker's head off with a scorching line drive through the middle in the fifth inning. Mercker threw about 80 pitches and turned the game over to the bullpen, which found the Dodgers no more accommodating.

Johnson also spelled out the relief situation, which already had become a little clearer when left-hander Mark Lee was released earlier in the day. The club will open the season with six pitchers in the bullpen, and all but one of those spots has been determined.

"It's a given that you almost have to go with 11 pitchers," Johnson said. "Even with the off days, you just don't want to start a year off where you have to bury a guy."

Randy Myers will be set up by Roger McDowell, Jesse Orosco and promising Armando Benitez. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes has proved himself healthy enough to be one of the long men, and right-handers Keith Shepherd and Jimmy Myers still are competing for the final opening.

Myers pitched two scoreless innings yesterday to drop his spring ERA to a team-leading 1.13, but it appears that the more experienced Shepherd will start the season with the big club.

The Orioles decided yesterday to keep utility man Jeff Huson, who had to sweat out the deadline for releasing a player before he is guaranteed his entire 1996 salary. That deadline passed at 2 p.m. yesterday, which telegraphed another roster decision.

If Huson makes the club -- which now seems all but certain -- then the Orioles figure to go with three utility infielders (Bill Ripken and Manny Alexander joining Huson) and two catchers (reserve Gregg Zaun joining Chris Hoiles).

There is the possibility that general manager Pat Gillick will pull off a deal involving Alexander, which would open up a spot for a third catcher, but that seems unlikely.

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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