Before Tuesday night's game with the Chicago White Sox, Orioles manager Johnny Oates vowed to keep Arthur Rhodes at the Triple-A level for the entire season, hoping the extra time in Rochester would teach Rhodes how to be a pitcher.
That's not to say Rhodes wasn't a pitcher before. One look at his off-speed stuff, not to mention his blazing heat, told even the casual observer that the 22-year-old lefthander had great talent.
But Rhodes, called up Wednesday to replace Storm Davis, who went on the disabled list with a groin injury, looked more like a thrower than a pitcher in his one taste of the big time last season, when he went 0-3 with an 8.00 ERA and 23 walks in 36 innings.
Last night, however, Rhodes took a huge step toward becoming a pitcher. He stopped the Minnesota Twins, the defending World Series champions and the best hitting and run-scoring team in the majors, on six hits in 7 2/3 innings en route to a 4-2 win.
"I told myself that I could come back and do real well. This year, I did great," said Rhodes, who earned his first major-league win and the first Orioles victory by a lefthanded starter in nearly a year.
He also took a step toward claiming a spot in the rotation, just two days after Oates had expressed an interest in keeping him on the farm.
"I hope not. I hope to stay up here," said Rhodes, who gave up one extra-base hit, an eighth-inning double to Gene Larkin, which ultimately cost him a shutout, before yielding to Alan Mills, who got his first career save.
But Rhodes' effort -- 109 pitches, four strikeouts, two walks -- on the hottest and most humid night of the season, earned him high praise from Oates.
"I like this guy. I didn't like that guy last year a whole lot, but I like this guy," said Oates.
What was not to like? Rhodes, who struck out 14 batters while holding Pawtucket scoreless over eight innings in his last minor-league appearance last Friday, changed speeds effectively, mixing in what Oates described as a "Sparky Lyle" slider with 90 mph fastballs to keep the Twins, who came in hitting .283 as a team, with 429 runs scored, off-balance.
"He changed speeds well and got ahead in the count -- that's the difference between winning and losing. He was able to make pitches he wanted to because he was ahead," said Kirby Puckett, the leading hitter in the majors, who was held to one hit in four at-bats.
Even leadoff hitter Shane Mack, who went 3-for-4 against Rhodes, was impressed.
"He spotted the ball well and threw strikes," Mack said. "That was the difference between this year and last year. He had a good breaking ball, too. He's kind of sneaky quick. The ball gets on you fast. I just tried to see the ball well and hit it."
When the Twins saw Rhodes last Sept. 1, they rocked him for seven runs and eight hits in three innings in a 14-3 loss.
But, as Oates points out, Rhodes appears to be a different pitcher than last year for no other reason than the way he aims his feet.
Specifically, Oates said Rhodes' left foot, the one he plants on the mound as he makes his delivery, was remaining pointed toward first base, rather than home, forcing him to throw across his body.
Through spring training and at Rochester, the Orioles staff drummed into Rhodes the merits of sliding the foot so that it aimed at home plate when he delivered, thus opening his hips and making his pitches more effective.
"It was a hard adjustment. I had to start off slow and build up to it," said Rhodes. "I got used to it and now I'm used to it."
Rhodes wasn't the only positive note for the Orioles, who are within one win of earning their first season series triumph over Minnesota in six years.
On a night when Brady Anderson earned his first All-Star Game selection, the leftfielder took over the team leadership in home runs when he slammed the first pitch from Scott Erickson over the right-centerfield wall.
Mike Devereaux followed Anderson's homer with a drive to left, to tie an American League record for most home runs to start a game. In the fifth, Chito Martinez, who hadn't played in 14 days, hit a two-run shot to right to make it 4-0.
The Orioles' activities weren't limited to the playing field. They claimed pitcher Pat Clements from the waiver wire, after the San Diego Padres released the 30-year-old lefthander Sunday.
The addition of Clements, who likely will be used to get individual lefthanded batters out, thus freeing Mike Flanagan to work longer stints, will require the Orioles to make a roster move, which Oates said probably wouldn't happen before game time tonight.
While Rhodes might have been a candidate for designation, last night's performance may caused the organization to re-think its strategy.
Now, Gregg Olson, who strained the left external oblique muscle Wednesday night against Chicago and may need to go on the disabled list, or Glenn Davis, who scratched himself from the lineup last night with soreness in his back and also could be disabled, or even Martinez, who had played himself out of the rightfield rotation, look like better candidates for a roster move than Rhodes.