CLEVELAND -- The Baltimore Orioles have had their pitching future on display for more than a month now, but they still don't have a clear idea how much of the youthful starting rotation will be in place for the 1992 season.
Jose Mesa and Ben McDonald still haven't proved they can stand up to the rigors of a full major-league season, and left-hander Arthur Rhodes is looking more and more like a Rochester Red Wing.
Rhodes struggled through his sixth major-league start yesterday, giving up five runs over 3 1/3 innings. The Cleveland Indians went on to score a resounding, 10-1 victory before 6,957 at Cleveland Stadium.
Left-hander Greg Swindell pitched eight strong innings and Albert Belle equaled a career high with five RBI for the Indians. Cal Ripken hit his 31st home run and reached 100 RBI for the third time in his career. But the outcome of a late September game between the bottom two teams in the American League East is not going to change the baseball world.
Rhodes does, however, have a chance to be a major force in the Orioles' pitching future. It just doesn't look like that will happen next year. He still is struggling to get control of his lively arm and command of his pitching repertoire.
He walked the first two batters he faced in the first inning and went on to give up three runs before the first out was recorded. The Indians went on to score four runs in the first, and Swindell never was challenged during a seven-hit, eight-strikeout performance that earned him his ninth victory of the year.
The Orioles' most revealing stat of the year got a little more revealing. They fell behind by three runs or more in the first three innings for the 39th time in 148 games. They are 3-36 in those games.
Rhodes settled down to work through the second and third before getting in trouble and giving way to left-hander Jeff Ballard in the fourth. In his first six major-league starts, Rhodes has lasted more than four innings only once and never has given up fewer than three runs.
"You can see that he has struggled at this level," manager John Oates said, "but there has been improvement. You can see the talent is there. He's got the stuff. It's just a matter of learning how to use it at this level. His control has come a long way, but his command is not there."
That much is obvious by his 9.00 ERA. The easy thing to do is to chalk it up to youthful inexperience. He is, after all, only 21, and he made the jump from Class AA to the major leagues about a month ago. But pitching coach Al Jackson isn't ready to leave it at that.
"It's not that simple," Jackson said. "He warmed up real well today. I really thought we were on to something. Then he went out there and didn't have a release point. He didn't have a clue. I don't know what it is.
"I'd like to feel we've made some progress, but I'd like to see a little more of it in a game."
Rhodes had pitched a strong 6 2/3 innings against the Indians last Sunday at Memorial Stadium. He gave up five hits and struck out eight, but was not involved in the decision. This time, he couldn't throw his fastball for strikes in the first and couldn't sneak his breaking ball past anyone.
"You have to make adjustments," Jackson said. "He hasn't reached the point where he can take charge of his own game.
"For him to be here in the first place, he has to have pitched some pretty good games in the minor leagues. I'd like to see him have some games like that up here."
The Orioles had hoped that Rhodes would be ready to start the 1992 season in the major-league rotation, but knew going in that was something of a long shot.
Now, it seems likely he will start the season at Class AAA, but Oates is going to withhold judgment until he sees Rhodes in spring training next year. Between now and then, Rhodes will have made two more starts for the Orioles, spent a week or two working on his pitching mechanics at the Florida Instructional League and pitched in winter ball. There is room to hope that he'll do a lot of growing up over the next five months.
L He already has spent some time at the school of hard knocks.
Swindell (9-14) hasn't exactly pitched in great luck this year, but he had it relatively easy yesterday. The Orioles threatened in the second inning and came up empty before Ripken led off the third with his fifth homer in the past 11 games. They would not be heard from again.
"When you get four runs in the first inning in this ballpark, that's a pretty good cushion," Oates said. "You get a four-run lead here, you should win a lot of games. But I like the way he [Swindell] works. I like his tempo. You've got to like the way he takes the ball and says, 'Here, let's see what happens.' "
RBI.. ..Player.. .. .. .. ..Year
141.. ..Jim Gentile.. .. .. 1961
124.. ..Eddie Murray.. .. ..1985
122.. ..x-Frank Robinson.. .1966
121.. ..Boog Powell.. .. .. 1969
118.. ..x-Brooks Robinson.. 1964
116.. ..Murray.. .. .. .. ..1980
114.. ..Powell.. .. .. .. ..1970
111.. ..Ken Singleton.. .. .1979
.. .. ..Murray.. .. .. .. ..1983
110.. ..Murray.. .. .. .. ..1982
.. .. ..Murray.. .. .. .. ..1984
.. .. ..Cal Ripken.. .. .. .1985
109.. ..Powell.. .. .. .. ..1966
.. .. ..x-Lee May.. .. .. ..1976
104.. ..Singleton.. .. .. ..1980
102.. ..Ripken.. .. .. .. ..1983
100.. ..B. Robinson.. .. .. 1966
.. .. ..F. Robinson.. .. .. 1969
.. .. ..y-Ripken.. .. .. .. 1991
x-led league; y-current