Mercker is sent to the bullpen Loss of velocity blamed for problems

June 20, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

Kent Mercker is going to the bullpen.

Mercker was signed as a free agent in the off-season to solidify the Orioles' starting rotation but his dwindling velocity, a mere 80 mph in his three-inning, four-home run, six-run performance Tuesday, and inability to get hitters out prompted manager Davey Johnson to move him to relief.

Rick Krivda, who started last night's rained-out second game, will replace Mercker in the rotation.

"Right now, obviously, I have no business being up here starting," said Mercker, who is 3-6 with a 7.43 ERA. "Going to the bullpen is probably the best thing for me and the team. This is the first time I've been embarrassed on the mound. I never thought I'd say that about pitching. It's terrible."

Although he has been used primarily as a starter the past three years, Mercker broke into the league in the bullpen. He had a streak of 25 straight scoreless innings as a reliever with the Atlanta Braves in 1993 and worked three games in relief with Atlanta last year.

Mercker's velocity had been steadily declining since 1993, but he was making progress with him arm strength, thanks to some exercises he learned from former Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan.

"We told him were going to put him out there [in relief] and let him get himself straightened out," pitching coach Pat Dobson said. "Funny thing was, he was throwing better on his [bullpen] day than he is in games. Maybe if he pitches out of the 'pen he'll be able to improve his velocity a little bit."

In his last two starts, Mercker's velocity dropped drastically, and he has been allowing home runs at an alarming rate. Both of those starts came on five days' rest, which Mercker believes contributed to the decline in velocity.

He went 5 2/3 innings with 13 hits, 11 earned runs and allowed five walks and five home runs in those two starts. He struck out none. The Orioles were outscored 11-1 with Mercker on the mound.

Mercker's best season was 1994, when he struck out a career-high 111 batters and finished a career-best 9-4 with a 3.45 ERA for the Braves and tossed a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"It's just not me," said Mercker, 28. "My best pitch has always been my fastball. Everything is keyed off of that. My changeup is not a good changeup. The changeup becomes a home run pitch."

Mercker said there is just a 7 mph difference between his fastball and changeup, not a large enough gap to keep hitters off balance. He's hoping to gain arm strength by working more regularly in the bullpen and not just gearing up to pitch every five days.

Mercker said he is not going to see a doctor because he's not hurt. His arm is just dead.

He's not sure if more rest will improve the situation, either. Mercker said that perhaps his more intense workouts, aimed at building arm strength, have actually hampered him.

"Last year, out of 26 starts, I had maybe seven starts where I didn't have my best stuff," Mercker said. "This year, starting in spring training, I had no velocity."

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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