Kent MerckerHis projected role in 1996: The...


Kent Mercker

His projected role in 1996: The No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the rotation, behind Mike Mussina and David Wells. The Orioles acquired Mercker, a left-hander, in a December trade with Atlanta, for pitching prospects Joe Borowski and Rachaad Stewart.

Number crunching: His opportunities limited as the No. 5 starter for the Atlanta Braves, Mercker has never pitched more than 143 innings in any season. This is why the Orioles loaded his contract, agreed to on Saturday, with incentives based on innings pitched. Once Mercker reaches 170 innings, those incentives will kick in, and should he pitch 180 innings, a 1997 option automatically will be activated.

Where he's been in the off-season: In Dublin, Ohio, where Mercker went to high school, about 15 miles from Columbus.

What he's been doing: "I've been working out with Mike Durant [a catcher in the Twins' farm system]. He's like a fitness guru, and it's helped a lot. Last year, I wasn't hurt enough to miss turns [in the rotation], but I had a lot of nagging injuries, and I want to get through that."

What he thinks is the Orioles' most significant acquisition of the off-season: "You're looking at Roberto Alomar. There's no one better defensively. I had Mark Lemke in Atlanta, and he was unbelievable in the way he helped me. Roberto Alomar may be the only one better. To see all the plays [Cal] Ripken and he make -- I see them on 'SportsCenter' -- incredible. As the Braves can tell you, pitching and defense will win championships."

What other team improved the most this off-season: "Cleveland. They add Jack McDowell, and that guy might win 25 games over there. He's going to really help them."

Player to watch with the Orioles: "I'm going to say me. Not in a cocky way, but I'm going to get a good opportunity to do what I'm capable of for the first time. I'm going to get a chance to put up some numbers, and I'm ready to do that."

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