SEATTLE - Jose Mercedes has made his last start as an Oriole.
Manager Mike Hargrove confirmed before last night's game that last season's 14-game winner and second-half marvel will work out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season and rookie left-hander John Bale will be assigned his spot in the rotation. The move comes one day after Mercedes surrendered six runs in a three-inning start in Friday's 10-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
The adjustment leaves the Orioles with three rookies - Bale, Josh Towers and Rick Bauer - in their rotation. A fourth member, Calvin Maduro, has six major-league wins, two fewer than Towers.
Mercedes, a pending free agent who led last season's team in wins based on an 11-win second half, failed to right himself after an 0-6 start typified by huge innings and two-out rallies.
The Orioles haven't discussed a contract extension with Mercedes, 30, since he lost his arbitration case against them during spring training, and apparently the club is ready to sever ties with the pitcher projected as its Opening Day starter before the signing of free agent Pat Hentgen.
Though Hargrove said last week that Mercedes wouldn't be removed from the rotation to protect him from a 20-loss season, the right-hander's 7-17 record and 6.11 ERA had made it impossible to justify more opportunities for a pitcher it does not see in its future.
Mercedes has cited luck and inconsistent support as contributing to his struggle. Many within the organization believe both factors contributed heavily to last season's success. Opponents are hitting .301 against him, highest on staff among pitchers with more than 30 innings.
While Mercedes leads the club with 112 strikeouts, his 61 walks in 166 1/3 innings have frequently contributed to his struggles with runners on base. Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley have been frustrated by Mercedes' tendency to rely on tricking hitters rather than challenging them.
"Jose likes to create when he pitches," said catcher Brook Fordyce, whose arrival last July coincided with Mercedes' second-half rush. "That's not a bad thing. But last year it worked for him. This year it hasn't."
The season has worn on Mercedes. He left without comment Friday for a second consecutive start. Approached about his status yesterday, he snapped, "This isn't a good time. Go ask them. They know everything that's going on."
Hargrove said he likely would have made the same move had Mercedes fared better.
"We've still got four or five starts left and we felt it was a good measuring stick to see what Bale can do on an extended basis," Hargrove said. "And it's gotten to the point with Jose where it obviously wasn't working. I don't think anybody can say we didn't give him a chance for it to work. I think he deserved that."
Mercedes is tied for the major-league lead in losses and is tied for fourth for most losses in a season by an Oriole. Mercedes' ERA is lower than only the Cleveland Indians' Dave Burba (6.41) among qualifying major-league pitchers.
Hargrove said Bale's insertion shouldn't suggest a fixation with finding a left-handed starter, something the Orioles have lacked since the departure of Jimmy Key. Hargrove's dominant run with the 1995-99 Indians never included one.
Bale was acquired from Toronto for former first-round draft pick Jayson Werth last December.
Surgery for Segui?
First baseman David Segui returned to hazy playing status last night. He left Friday night's game after aggravating a left knee injury that has bothered him for more than a month and, according to Hargrove, is rated as day-to-day.
The probability of Segui having surgery on the knee after the season grows with every missed game. Team officials and Segui say they are uncertain of what is causing him chronic pain as several magnetic resonance images have revealed no abnormality. But neither have seven cortisone injections stopped the pain.
Around the horn
Melvin Mora also will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of injury to his left arm. Mora hurt himself diving for a ball during Monday's loss in Oakland. ... Catcher Geronimo Gil made his major-league debut last night and nearly threw out Mariners leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki on a first-inning steal attempt. Gil was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 31 with reliever Kris Foster in the Mike Trombley deal. Gil hit .268 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 23 games for Rochester. ... The Mariners became the first team in the majors to draw 3 million fans with a sellout crowd of 45,894 last night. With 11 games left at Safeco Field this season, the Mariners have drawn 3,008,363 fans.