Mercedes leapfrogs Maduro as No. 4; Mercedes' adjustments, Maduro's struggles factor in; Timlin set to be activated


MINNEAPOLIS -- Manager Mike Hargrove removed any lingering question about the direction of his starting rotation yesterday when he officially named Jose Mercedes the starter for Wednesday's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and made him the de facto No. 4 starter.

Hargrove set up the move last week when he juxtaposed Mercedes' and Calvin Maduro's starts. Originally scheduled to start Friday, Maduro was bumped in favor of Mercedes before giving a troubled five-inning start Saturday. After breezing through three innings by facing the minimum nine hitters, Maduro faltered the second time through the order. A Corey Koskie triple and Ron Coomer double spiced a tying three-run rally in the fourth inning. After the Orioles again pulled ahead, a leadoff triple in the fifth inning led to the tying run, costing Maduro his first major-league win since 1997.

"I made a couple bad pitches that hurt me," Maduro said. "Other than that, I felt I had pretty good command. Things got away from me that one [fourth] inning."

Hargrove used the two days as an unannounced competition between the two. Mercedes apparently won out because of his ability to make adjustments more easily during the game. Opponents are batting .167 (3-for-18) against Maduro the first time through the order, .588 (10-for-17) with three home runs and two triples after that. Maduro retired the first seven hitters faced in his initial start before surrendering three home runs.

"I don't know if you fix it. Maybe it's just a trait," said Hargrove. "In the past, Calvin has been right there for three innings and then he can't sustain it. I don't know [if it's a trait]. It's something we're looking at and trying to [alleviate] it. We need to extend him. Calvin has the talent to do that."

Mercedes, who made the club as a nonroster invitee, began the season in the Orioles' minor-league system while Maduro received an April 7 start. Maduro's lack of options necessitated his making the team out of spring training, a move he made easier with a solid camp.

Hargrove said Maduro will work out of the bullpen in long relief.

Though Maduro was initially listed as Wednesday's starter, Mercedes said he never thought himself in danger of being evicted from the rotation. "I don't think that I've pitched great, but I think I've pitched well enough to go out there again," said Mercedes, who was informed by pitching coach Sammy Ellis of his graduation to fourth starter yesterday.

"There are better things coming," said Mercedes, who carries a 1-0 record and 5.73 ERA compared with Maduro's 10.00 ERA without a record. "I believe I'm better than what I've done so far."

Return of Timlin, Myers set

Closer Mike Timlin cleared the final hurdle standing between him and the active roster by completing a side session before the Orioles' 5-0 win yesterday.

The Orioles are expected to activate him before tonight's game. To make room, they are expected to option Gabe Molina to Triple-A Rochester. Molina appeared only once, surrendering three runs in one inning April 7 against the Detroit Tigers. On the same day, Timlin was put on the disabled list retroactive to April 2 because of an abdominal strain. "His mechanics are 100 percent. His arm is 100 percent," said Ellis.

Timlin last pitched April 1 in an exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tenn. It was the same day that backup catcher Greg Myers strained his left hamstring connecting on a 420-foot home run. Myers also will be activated today, necessitating the option of Willie Morales to Rochester.

"I'm shocked" to be ready this quickly, Myers said before yesterday's game. "When it happened, I thought it was going to be a long road back."

Myers convinced himself and the Orioles' coaching staff of his soundness by performing a number of drills to test his first step. He also is comfortable coming out of a crouch and could make his first appearance as an Oriole during an upcoming Oakland-to-Chicago road trip.

Twins salute Ripken

The Twins held a ceremony 20 minutes before yesterday's game to recognize Cal Ripken for Saturday's 3,000th hit. The club made a $3,000 donation to the Kelly and Cal Ripken Jr. Foundation, which supports community adult and family literacy, youth recreational and health-related programs.

The Twins also will raise proceeds by selling unused game tickets, which should be plentiful given Saturday's Metrodome attendance of 18,745.

Clark back in the swing

Orioles first baseman Will Clark returned to the lineup for the first time since leaving the April 13 game in Kansas City with back spasms.

Still among the league leaders in on-base percentage, Clark singled and struck out once in four at-bats and made several solid defensive plays. Clark has five strikeouts in his last eight at-bats after striking out twice in his first 21 at-bats.

'Dr. Fan' checks out 3,000

Ripken's career moment became the latest observed by a St. Paul resident who says he has witnessed all 15 players to have reached 3,000 hits since 1959. The retired college professor had purchased tickets for this week's series against Tampa Bay and intended to fly cross-country for this week's series in Oakland if Ripken remained short of the mark.

"I'm not the important one," said Dr. Seth Hawkins, a former professor at Bowling Green and Southern Connecticut State. "It's the people on the field. I do this to honor them and the fans who might like to do something like this but don't have the opportunity."

Ripken said he received a number of phone calls Saturday night but not the avalanche of messages that likely will greet his return home. "Not a lot of people have my number," he said.

Around the horn

Twelve of Minnesota's first 18 outs were groundouts to Clark or second baseman Jesus Garcia, who was 0-for-4 in a rare start. The Twins have lost nine of 11. The Orioles' last complete game shutout was by Scott Erickson last Sept. 7 against Minnesota and yesterday's Twins starter, Joe Mays. With 37, Brady Anderson has only half as many leadoff home runs as Rickey Henderson (75).

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