Consistent bat steers Mercedes toward top of Orioles' order
* ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Red Wings outfielder Luis Mercedes has the look of the reliable leadoff hitter the Orioles lineup could use.
"His offense outweighs any other part of his game," said Wings manager Greg Biagini. "He knows how to hit and he knows how to work the pitcher for a walk."
Mercedes extended his latest hitting streak to 11 games in their 4-1 loss to Tidewater last night with a bunt single. His .322 batting average is the second best in the International League. He has 61 walks, 31 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 91 games. His excellent on-base percentage is .428.
Mercedes, 25, signed as a non-drafted free agent in 1987. The native of the Dominican Republic won the batting title in the Carolina League in 1989 and in the Eastern League in 1990.
He bounced back from a suspension for attitude problems earlier this season to become an important part of the team.
The Orioles converted Mercedes from a second baseman to an outfielder during winter ball after the 1989 season. His lack of experience in the outfield shows in late jumps on the ball. He also sometimes overruns balls lined into the outfield and Biagini describes his throws as "inconsistent." He has five errors.
"His problem mainly is getting into the proper position to make the strong throw," Biagini said.
Mercedes' base-running and base-stealing methods also bother the Wings manager.
"He still runs with his head down and doesn't look for the ball," he said. "He doesn't get a consistent jump when he steals. He stands up before he runs instead of just taking off."
Biagini believes improvement will come with maturity for Mercedes.
"He has improved but not as much as you'd like to see," the Wings manager said. "But that improvement often shows up in the next season's spring training."
The consistency of Mercedes at the plate contrasts with the Wings' pitching troubles. Until the Orioles called up Jose Mesa and Jose Bautista, the Red Wings pitching roster looked like a collection of Orioles disappointments.
In his first two starts with the Red Wings since being sent down from Baltimore, Jeff Ballard allowed 22 hits and 10 earned runs in 11 innings.
His third start turned into a 9-2 complete game victory against the Richmond Braves Tuesday night. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA.
"He finally was able to get some difference in speeds between his fastball and his change. His slider was working well to LTC lefthanded batters," said Wings pitching coach Dick Bosman.
Jeff Robinson took his second loss without a win for the Wings when he gave up a three-run home run against the Braves Monday night. He and pitcher Paul Kilgus were responsible for 12 hits, nine runs and four walks.
Bosman said Robinson has a number of mechanical problems.
"He's embarrassed and he's mad about being here but he wants to improve," the pitching coach said. "His arm is resilient. We're working almost every day in the bullpen."
@ * HAGERSTOWN -- Mel Wearing always thought one righthand
ed-hitting first baseman on a club was enough. Twenty-four hours after he hit a game-tying, two-run homer against Harrisburg, he was joined on the Suns by two more.
Glenn Davis came up from Baltimore and Ken Shamburg came %% down with his .150 average from Triple A Rochester. What was manager Jerry Narron to do with them? He juggled them between first base and designated hitter, and actually had all three in the lineup at one point, with Shamburg at third base.
Davis batted leadoff Tuesday night, obliging Narron to find another spot for Rodney Lofton, who had batted No. 1 since June 7. From the No. 7 position, Lofton went 3-for-4.
Lofton is having a prosperous second half, having raised his average to .287. This week he became the first Suns player at the Double A level to reach 50 stolen bases.
Two straight defeats at the hands of Harrisburg trimmed Arthur Rhodes' record to 7-3. In one game the enemy stole five bases in four innings, indicating that's an area in which he needs work. He's scheduled to start against Reading tonight.
Mike Linskey, the lefthander out of Loyola High, is 4-4 after scattering nine hits in a 7-1 win over Harrisburg that ended a string of eight straight Suns losses to that team.
Another lefty, Pat Leinen, has captured four straight starts, three of them this month, to raise his record to 7-6.
Catcher Doug Robbins (.314) is battling Reading's Bruce Dostal (.324) for the Eastern League batting lead.
* FREDERICK -- Brent Miller is doing it with his glove as well as his bat for the Keys. The club's best defensive first baseman since David Segui in 1989, Miller batted .318 in his first 18 games, with six home runs and 21 RBIs.
Miller was summoned from Kane County July 21, where he was batting .286. He hurt his right hand the day he was called up and missed his first five games with the Keys.
"He puts the bat on the ball and has a lot of power," said Frederick manager Wally Moon.
Reliever Dave Riddle, a knuckleballer, has three saves since Aug. 8 after picking up only two before that.
Another reliever, Greg Hays, is out for the season with a bad knee suffered in a brawl with Salem Aug. 9. Hays hit Salem's Austin Manahan with a pitch, and the benches emptied.
With his pitching staff at nine, two below normal, Moon used infielder Tony Beasley to get the final out against Peninsula. Beasley, who pitched at Liberty University, unleashed a wild pitch before retiring the batter. Dave Paveloff was summoned from Kane County to replace Hays.
The Keys are still in the hunt for the Carolina League's Northern Division title. They'll open a five-game series against Kinston with a doubleheader tomorrow night.