Hurried Rhodes stumbles on step

August 28, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

There are always exceptions, but Arthur Rhodes appears to be the latest example that the easiest path to the big leagues is one step at a time.

The rookie lefthander skipped the last stop, at Triple A, when he was promoted to the Orioles 10 days ago and right now he's paying the price. His second start, in last night's 6-1 walkover by the Toronto Blue Jays, wasn't as impressive as his first, which was shaky at best.

The Orioles knew they were taking a chance when they brought Rhodes in from Double A Hagerstown. "We might find out that he needs time at Rochester," manager John Oates said at the time of the callup, "but at least it gives us a chance to take a look."

Despite two ineffective outings, Oates isn't going to deviate from his late-season plan. "I'll go a long way with him," said Oates, stopping short of guaranteeing that Rhodes will remain in the rotation the rest of the year.

"He's got a long way to go. I have confidence that he will get better," said Oates.

As expected, Rhodes continued to show signs of nervousness. He threw 77 pitches in the four innings he worked, and set the tone for the evening when he walked the first three batters in the second inning.

The Blue Jays already had a 1-0 lead, and when the three walkers scored to make it 4-0, it was just a matter of time before Rhodes would have to leave. The end came in the fourth inning, when Devon White cracked his second homer in two nights, a two-run shot that finished the scoring for the evening.

"I was a little nervous," said Rhodes, "but that wasn't the reason [for his ineffectiveness]. I didn't have control of my fastball -- I didn't have control of anything.

"I didn't think good. I didn't get into a groove. I was rushing the ball. I didn't have good stuff."

Nobody questions the physical ability of Rhodes. "You never know [if a person can make the jump from Double A] until you try," said pitching coach Al Jackson. "He didn't have control of his fastball, and he has to have that."

For all of the insistence that a pitcher cannot consistently win in the big leagues with speed alone, more than a few have had early success. "But even if you're relying basically on one pitch," said Oates, "you have to be able to get it over the plate early in the count, when there's at least a little doubt. The deeper you go, the more the hitter has an advantage."

Although the two have almost completely different styles, the one person who might best be able to identify with Rhodes is the man who replaced him last night. Anthony Telford made the same jump a year ago, coming to the Orioles from Double A.

This year he went back to Rochester to, hopefully, finish his minor-league education. "What I was able to do in Triple A is throw the slider and changeup for strikes," said the righthander, who pitched five scoreless innings after Rhodes departed.

"Now I have four pitches that I can throw in the strike zone on a good day. And," Telford added with emphasis, "on days when I might be off with one pitch, it means I still have three others.

"Last year I was only throwing a fastball and curve, and if one was missing I was down to only one pitch. You can't pitch like that up here.

"Arthur has great stuff . . . he throws very hard. When he gets to the point where he throws his pitches for strikes, he'll win up here."

Even though he was tied for the International League lead with 12 wins, Telford was neither surprised nor upset that he was passed over so many times this year.

"Arthur's a great prospect and I knew he'd be next when they brought him up," said Telford. "They [the Orioles] gave me the same chance over some other guys last year."

Though he finished 3-3 in eight starts with the Orioles last year, Telford was never really in the running for a spot in what proved to be a very shaky starting rotation this spring. "I knew from the beginning they wanted me to get a full year in Triple A," he said.

"It was an up-and-down year, but I stayed healthy and took my turn. I'm not saying I was the best, but I was the one who went out there every five days."

At Rochester, Telford made 25 starts (seven more than anybody has made for the Orioles this year) and pitched 161 innings. He endured a slump that sent him to the bullpen and caused him to miss one turn, but he basically got a full year at Triple A.

"I'm a year older and more experienced," he said. "I'm on a push not to go back [to Rochester]."

It's sometimes painful to gain Triple A experience at the major-league level, which is something Arthur Rhodes is now trying to do.

While he's in the process, the Orioles will have to be as protective as they are patient.

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