Mercedes preparing for future elsewhere


He says he understands removal from rotation

September 10, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - Jose Mercedes ended his cooling-off period yesterday by admitting he wasn't surprised by the Orioles' decision to bump him from the starting rotation for the rest of the season. At the same time, Mercedes expressed no remorse over rejecting the club's offer of a contract extension before his nightmarish 7-17 season began.

"If they came to me today with the same offer, I would do it again," he said before yesterday's 6-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners. "No question in my mind."

A pending free agent who won 11 games during last season's second half, Mercedes says he's willing to "gamble" he can rehabilitate his value by accepting a one-year contract this winter.

"I'm not expecting teams to come at me with a three-year deal. But that's OK. I know the kind of pitcher I am. I'm not a 17-loss pitcher."

Mercedes, who lasted three innings in Friday's 10-1 loss, said he would prefer to take his final turns in the rotation but added he didn't disagree with the organization's thinking. "I understand what they are doing because they've got a bunch of young pitchers they want to see pitch. At the same time, I'm not in their plans. I know that and they know that."

Manager Mike Hargrove initially projected left-hander John Bale as Mercedes' replacement in the rotation, but forearm stiffness may jeopardize Bale's Thursday start against the Toronto Blue Jays. If he is unable to go, Hargrove may give Sean Douglass his second major-league start.

Originally signed to a minor-league contract before leading the staff with 14 wins last season, Mercedes took the Orioles to an arbitration hearing during spring training, lost, and received a $2.75 million salary. The Orioles offered a two-year guarantee with an option that could have pushed the contract's value to $8 million. "I got what I got. I'm happy with it," he said. "To this day I don't regret my decision. I did what I thought was right."

Mercedes has since constructed the second-highest ERA by a major-league starting pitcher and been tormented by indifferent run support and large rallies. Though Mercedes, 30, does not anticipate long-term security after challenging for the major-league lead in losses, he believes other teams will be mindful of the renovation project in which his struggles occurred.

"Maybe I'll go someplace else where the team is contending and can give me better support. Everybody knows things are different here. We'll see what happens," he said.

No mas for Mills

One week after returning to the bullpen from a two-day leave of absence, right-hander Alan Mills learned yesterday he can expect few, if any, opportunities the rest of this season.

Mills, a pending free agent, contemplated retirement before vowing upon his return that he wanted to pitch for the remainder of the season. Hargrove, citing the club's desire to expose its younger arms, apparently has shut him down before he had the chance.

"We want to throw our kids as much as we can to get a look at them," said Hargrove. "In doing that, it means Alan's innings and pitches will be more limited."

Shortly after returning in July from an extended rehab assignment, Mills complained of residual weakness in his right shoulder. Crushed by surrendering five home runs in a five-game span, he missed Aug. 30 and Sept. 1 games against the Mariners while pondering whether to finish the season and continue his career.

Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift emphasized Mills' need to build arm strength for next season "even if it means just throwing batting practice."

That apparently will be the extent of Mills' opportunities as he appears destined to end the season 1-1 with a 10.38 ERA that includes six home runs in 13 innings pitched. The Orioles, meanwhile, have expressed little desire in retaining one of the last ties to their 1997 American League East championship.

"I have nothing to say. I have no comment," Mills said before yesterday's game.

Gillick leads Ripken raves

Still tingling from Cal Ripken's All-Star Game heroics, the Mariners became the latest organization to honor the retiring third baseman during a pre-game ceremony.

The Mariners presented Ripken some original artwork, a team-signed jersey, a year's supply of Dungeness crabs and a plaque matching the one unveiled in the visitors' bullpen commemorating his All-Star Game home run and Most Valuable Player performance.

Among those to speak during the ceremony was Mariners general manager and former Orioles executive Pat Gillick, a minor-league teammate of Ripken's father when the future Hall of Famer was born in 1960.

Gillick, who left the Orioles in 1998 after a successful three-year run as general manager, spoke poignantly of the traits of the father passed on to the son. Gillick, it may be remembered, officially announced his resignation from the Orioles on Sept. 20, 1998, only hours before Ripken notified manager Ray Miller of his intention to end his streak of 2,632 consecutive games that night.

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