The jury was getting ready to come in on Arthur Rhodes. The word around the Baltimore Orioles front office was that the club's top left-handed pitching prospect would need a year at the Class AAA level to further his baseball education.
Rhodes may well start the 1992 season with the Rochester Red Wings, but he is beginning to grow into his place in the club's pitching future.
He turned in the longest performance of his brief major-league career yesterday, pitching a strong 6 2/3 innings in the Orioles' 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Memorial Stadium.
"We're definitely seeing some growth," manager John Oates said. "We've talked to Arthur. He knows he has nothing to lose. He's here getting experience that can only be good for him."
Rhodes survived a shaky start to scatter five hits and strike out eight, but left with the game tied in the seventh inning and was not eligible for the decision. The Orioles won the game on a 200-foot sacrifice fly by Cal Ripken in the eighth, the decision going to reliever Mark Williamson (4-5) and the save to Gregg Olson.
No matter. The Orioles aren't interested in Rhodes' win-loss record, which remained at 0-2. The object is experience, and he appears to be benefiting from it.
"Today was so much better than the last one, I don't want to get too excited about it," Oates said. "In his first start, I saw outstanding velocity. Then, against Toronto, I don't think he had near the same velocity. I thought that was the poorest outing of the five. I saw growth in Minnesota. He gave up two runs in the second inning and came back to get them 1-2-3. It's been a thing where he's starting to get more comfortable.
"I see a little Pete Harnisch in him. When Pete got here, he could walk four guys in a row, no problem. With Arthur, we're seeing more and more command."
In Rhodes' previous start, he gave up only one earned run against the New York Yankees, but failed to break the 12-out barrier for the fourth consecutive time. This time, he surrendered a three-run homer to Albert Belle with one out in the first inning and then gave up just three additional hits over his remaining 6 1/3 innings.
The turnabout was attributed to a suggestion from catcher Chris Hoiles, who deduced from the rotation of Rhodes' breaking ball that he was gripping the ball too tightly.
"Chris and I talked about it," Rhodes said. "He said I was holding it too tight. When I made that adjustment, then everything started to fall in place."
Designated hitter Sam Horn helped keep Rhodes in the gam with a two-run homer off Indians starter Eric King in the first inning. It was Horn's 21st home run of the year, and it was `D another indication that he doesn't want to sit around the last few weeks of the season watching the Orioles youth movement take hold.
Horn was doing just that until he forced his way back into the lineup with a couple of home runs against the Kansas City Royals a weekend earlier. He ended up with five home runs and 11 RBI during the 10-game homestand. The Orioles won six of the 10 games, but they were 4-1 in the games in which Horn homered.
"I'm just trying to stay focused and make the most of the opportunity," Horn said. "I'm thinking that every at-bat I get, I want to make it an important one. I'm trying to concentrate on a certain zone and I've been successful."
Rhodes hurt himself with a walk in the first inning, but he managed to collect himself after Belle's home run. That, in itself, an indication that he is growing as a major-league pitcher.
"I told myself to settle down," he said. "I said to myself, 'You can still throw strikes.' And I did. This is a big relief because the first few starts weren't that good."
The Orioles tied the game in the fifth inning, but not without a little help from the Cleveland bullpen. King compounded an error by third baseman Jim Thome with a pair of walks to load the bases, persuading manager Mike Hargrove to go to rookie relief pitcher Garland Kiser.
Bad idea. Kiser hit Joe Orsulak with a pitch to force home the tying run.
Give the Orioles credit for forcing the action in the eighth, though there was room to wonder why Mike Devereaux tagged up on a very shallow fly ball by Ripken.
Devereaux and Orsulak had opened the inning with back-to-back singles off reliever Willie Blair, leaving runners at the corners with no one out. Center fielder Wayne Kirby had to come a long way to catch the ball on the run, but his momentum was taking him toward the plate.
The throw was a few feet up the line and Devereaux managed to slide in front of catcher Joel Skinner, who retreated behind the third-base line to take the one hop throw. If Skinner had played the short hop in front of the plate, he probably would have had time to apply the tag.
But with no one out, why did the Orioles even take the chance?
"I think you have to look at the situation Kirby was in," Devereaux said. "He had backed up on the ball and he was running in. It would have been hard to make a perfect throw, so Senior [third-base coach Cal Ripken Sr.] didn't put up the stop sign. It would have been different if he was waiting under the ball."
Site: Fenway Park, Boston
Red Sox starter: Tom Bolton (8-7, 4.67)
Orioles starter: Mike Mussina (3-4, 3.71)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
TV: Channels 2, 20