After eight years, Mercker returns to Braves

By Jim Callis
August 12, 2003

Eight years after the Braves traded him, Kent Mercker returned to the organization that drafted him fifth overall in the June 1986 draft. Atlanta acquired Mercker from the Reds on Tuesday for a player to be named later.

Mercker, 35, has found a niche as a lefthanded reliever since returning from a brain hemorrhage that ended his 2000 season prematurely and cost him all of 2001. After signing a one-year, $550,000 contract with the Reds as a free agent, he went 0-2, 2.35 in 49 appearances with them. He had a 41-25 strikeout-walk ratio in 38 innings and held opponents to a .225 average while having equal success against lefties and righties. He has a mid- to high-80s fastball and mixes his pitches well. Mercker missed two weeks in late June and early July with a sprained lower back. He’ll team with Ray King as the primary southpaw setup men in Atlanta, where he spent the first seven years of his big league career and took part in two no-hitters (a combined effort in 1991 and a solo job in 1994). For his career, Mercker has gone 66-64, 4.31 with 19 saves in 473 games.

Aug. 13 update: Baseball America’s Josh Boyd has learned that Triple-A righthander Matt Belisle will be the player to be named later. A 1998 second-round pick out of a Texas high school, Belisle ranked as the Braves’ No. 4 prospect before the 2001 season after ringing up 168 strikeouts in 181 innings at Class A. He ended up missing all of 2001 after having surgery to repair a bulging disc in his back, and has been a little stiff and erratic since returning from that operation. The 23-year-old Belisle’s fastball previously reached 95 mph and sat in the low 90s, but he tops out around 91 these days. His curveball also isn’t as solid as it used to be. Nonetheless, he has been putting up strong numbers and is a good gamble for the Reds to take in exchange for a 35-year-old reliever. Belisle started this season 6-8, 3.52 with 94 strikeouts and 42 walks in 125 innings for Double-A Greenville before being promoted to Triple-A Richmond, where he’s 1-1, 2.25 with 10 K’s and no walks through 17 innings.