Marching orders to Mercedes halted


After spending a night in limbo, Jose Mercedes learned yesterday that, at least for now, he'll remain in Baltimore.

The Orioles right-handed reliever was notified by manager Mike Hargrove after Thursday night's rain-delayed win that he was being optioned to Triple-A Rochester, ostensibly to clear roster room for fellow reliever Calvin Maduro.

After complaining to Hargrove about the demotion and his relief role and then clearing out his locker, Mercedes challenged whether the team retained an option on him. Mercedes added that he would not report to Rochester, if possible.

Yesterday morning, vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift phoned Mercedes with a message: never mind.

"I told him we loved him and wanted him here," Thrift said. "We didn't want him going anywhere."

Because of an exhausted bullpen and a decision to send Maduro on another rehab assignment, Mercedes was told to return to Camden Yards last night, where he was one of only several pitchers available behind Mike Mussina.

Maduro pitched an inning Thursday in Rochester, but was redirected to Frederick yesterday.

"We don't want to rush him," Thrift said of Maduro, who does retain options and must be reinstated to the major-league roster when activated.

The Orioles insist Mercedes has options. Mercedes was on the phone with his agent, Dick Moss, when contacted by Thrift yesterday.

After hearing what Thrift had to say, Mercedes didn't raise the issue.

"It's like going to jail. If you can get out of going, you don't go," Mercedes said. "If you have no choice, you have to go."

Asked whether yesterday's change of heart only represented a temporary stay for Mercedes, Thrift said, "I would not come to that conclusion. It might be right or it might be wrong."

Able to make the club this spring as a non-roster invitee, Mercedes began the season in the Orioles' rotation but was shuffled to the bullpen after Scott Erickson returned from arthroscopic elbow surgery.

Mercedes has since handled the largely anonymous role of long relief, working nine times out of the pen.

He went 12 and 13 days between appearances last month and has worked in only one victory since being removed from the rotation after his April 27 start. He has rung up a 9.00 ERA out of the bullpen, compared with 6.38 as a starter.

"If the starter goes five innings, then I don't pitch. It's not the manager's fault. It's not the pitching coach's fault. It's not my fault. That's the way it is. I need to pitch," he said.

Mercedes has struggled with control since leaving the rotation. He has walked 18 in 29 innings and opponents have reached him for a .374 average.

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