CLEARWATER, FLA — CLEARWATER, Fla. -- At the one-third mark of the exhibition season, Orioles manager John Oates said he's had no surprises, but pinpointed starting pitching as the most pleasing development.
"I don't think you can say it's a surprise because we thought they were capable of doing what they're doing," Oates said of his starters, particularly the young ones. "It's not so much the results, but the way they have thrown the ball -- velocity, movement and location.
"The progress that Arthur Rhodes has made since last September has been very impressive," Oates said of the rookie left-hander, who is conceded only an outside shot of making the Opening Day roster. "I can see progress in all of them -- but Arthur has been especially impressive.
"[Bob] Milacki, [Ben] McDonald, [Mike] Mussina and [Jose] Mesa have thrown well all spring. You take those four, with Rhodes, and let them pitch the way they have down here and not miss a turn [because of injuries] and you'd have a pretty good staff."
That, however, does not mean Rhodes and Mesa necessarily will make the staff. Oates deliberately eliminated Rick Sutcliffe and Storm Davis from his assessment because they are veterans with track records.
"I'm not going to comment on the roster," said Oates. Asked if there was any chance Rhodes could open the season in Baltimore, Oates said, "If he's ready to pitch at this level, he'll pitch at this level in some capacity.
"It's a process of learning how to pitch," Oates said of Rhodes' development. "The Orioles used to have a pretty good system where they'd bring a young pitcher up, let him pitch long relief to get his feet on the ground, then put him in the rotation.
"I consider Arthur a starting pitcher," said Oates, adding after a significant pause, "but he could pitch out of the bullpen."
Conditions are not the same as during the regular season, but all three of Rhodes' appearances this spring have come in relief of ** McDonald. Yesterday, Rhodes, 22, worked three scoreless innings, allowing only one hit in a 3-1 win over the Phillies.
In eight innings overall, Rhodes has allowed only four hits and one run (1.13 ERA), walking three and striking out four. His next two outings could be pivotal.