Mercedes hopes he's in running for a major-league job next year

For the record, Luis Mercedes will say that the best thing to come out of his 1992 season with the Rochester Red Wings, the Orioles' Triple-A farm team, was a better ability to steal bases.

And, indeed, his 71-percent rate of success on the base paths was an improvement over 1991's 64 percent. His 35 steals this season led the International League.


But perhaps the best thing to come out of Mercedes' stay at Rochester this year was a renewed sense of purpose to get to the major leagues. The question is whether the 24-year-old native of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic can get enough playing time to make people forget the bad things they've heard about him.

"I feel better about things. I just want the opportunity to play, no matter if it's here or it's somewhere else," said Mercedes, who was to get his second straight start last night against the Boston Red Sox.


There is no doubt that Mercedes, 24, has a wealth of talent. He has won batting titles on the Single-A and Double-A levels, and has narrowly missed Triple-A batting crowns the last two seasons, finishing behind Columbus' J. T. Snow by .00005 points this year.

In his first game as an Oriole against Kansas City Sept. 8, 1991, Mercedes went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and exhibited the kind of speed that Orioles fans had previously seen in only opposition leadoff men, though he subsequently tailed off to hit .204 in 19 games.

This year's two call-ups haven't approached last season's sporadic success.

When he joined the Orioles in April to fill injured first baseman Glenn Davis' roster spot, Mercedes hit .050 (1-for-20) in 10 games and was sent to Rochester in early May.

Since being recalled on Sept. 2, he has batted .182, going 2-for-11 with two doubles, for an overall .097 average.

By numbers, at least on the major-league level, Mercedes hasn't made a terrific impression, but then, manager Johnny Oates says that he hasn't received much of a chance to make a good showing, as he has limited Mercedes to at-bats against left-handersand pinch-running stints.

"He's always been a slow starter. People start talking about 'Maybe he's not ready to play on this level,' and then, boom, he takes off," said first baseman David Segui, Mercedes' best friend.

Oates said: "We'll see how it goes. He could get some playing time or this could be his last start. All he needs is playing time. You just can't judge anything on 20 at-bats. We just need to get him a chance."


Mercedes might have earned that chance already had controversy not followed him in the minors.

He was suspended for the last week of the International League season last year after he threw his helmet into the face of a Syracuse Chiefs third baseman. The incident started after a verbal exchange as he was leaving the field after a force out at second.

In 1990, Mercedes beat up someone who called him a "dumb Dominican" in Durham, N.C. and was himself beaten up by some of his teammates on the Frederick Keys, the Orioles' Single-A farm team.

Segui said Mercedes has been given a bad rap by people both in and out of the organization. "There are still some people in the organization that haven't let him put it behind him. He knows he has no room for error because he's under a microscope," Segui said.

In the case of the Syracuse fight, Segui says Mercedes was provoked and was only trying to defend himself, a view substantiated by Brady Anderson, who was with Rochester at the time.

"If you're in a fight, there are no rules. If the guy's going to start a fight, then he should be ready to fight," Anderson said.


Oates said Mercedes' past doesn't affect his future with the Orioles, but also said he's noticed a pleasant change.

"He's a much more mature person. I'm very impressed with what he's doing with his life. People change," Oates said.

Mercedes has pledged not to let what others think of him distract him from his ultimate goal: to play in the big leagues.

"I never get frustrated because I'm a young man," Mercedes said. "No matter what they do to me, I have to keep my mind going all the way. No matter if it's here or somewhere else, I'll keep going, and I'll play hard and give 110 percent all the time."