CHICAGO -- Despite two straight impressive starts since his promotion from Triple-A, the Orioles are continuing to take a cautious approach with pitcher Arthur Rhodes.
But there is reason to believe the club is trying to remain low-key to keep the expectation level within reason. There certainly is enough evidence to generate excitement about their young left-hander, but that's exactly what the Orioles are trying to avoid.
"Do we have anybody better?" manager Johnny Oates said when asked whether he was ready to commit to Rhodes as one of his starters. In two starts with the Orioles, Rhodes has allowed the defending World Series champion Minnesota Twins two runs in 7 2/3 innings and held the Texas Rangers hitless for five innings before giving up a pair of hits and runs in the sixth inning Sunday night.
In the process, he has made a big impression on a lot of people, including Oates. Rhodes is scheduled to make his next start against the Rangers in Baltimore on Friday night. It is a game that could provide a meaningful barometer because the Rangers will be seeing Rhodes for the second time in six days, which should be an advantage for their veteran hitters.
"From what I see in him right now, the way he talks to you, the way he looks at you, I get the feeling he thinks he belongs here now," said Oates. "Last year, I think there was some doubt in his mind.
"Even after he had the balk called last [Sunday] night, it didn't seem to rattle him," Oates said of the play that produced the Rangers' first run. "He just said, 'I don't think I balked,' and that was it."
Rhodes then proceeded to retire the next three hitters, the last three he would face, and turned the game over to Todd Frohwirth (3-0), who was credited with the 3-2 win in 10 innings. The balk provided the last of four opportunities that Rhodes had to crack under the pressure of a 0-0 game, but each time he resisted.
He walked the first two batters in the first and second innings, and the leadoff hitter in the third -- but each time got the next three batters. Rhodes was particularly impressive in the first inning, when he struck out Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra and Juan Gonzalez -- the 3-4-5 hitters in the Texas lineup. "Once I got into a good groove in the third inning, I felt great," said Rhodes. "I kept telling myself, 'Keep your arm up, throw strikes and we'll win this game.' And that's what happened. I had a nice time out there."
"The report we had from [Rochester manager] Jerry Narron was that he [Rhodes] had made great strides toward becoming a pitcher, not just a thrower," said Oates. "The reports said he wasn't quite there yet, but that the difference was noticeable. And I can see it."
Oates most likely also can see Rhodes taking a regular turn in the Orioles rotation, but he stops short of saying it. "I'm not going to commit to him long term, and I'm not going to say he's out of here," said the manager. "Let's watch him pitch awhile."
Rhodes was the third straight young pitcher, following Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald, to put the clamps on the Rangers. The trio, along with relievers Frohwirth, Pat Clements and Gregg Olson in Sunday night's game, allowed only six hits during the last 30 innings while the Orioles were winning the last three of a four-game series.
Although there is some evidence to the contrary -- the Rangers had been on an offensive tear before the All-Star break -- Oates tried to dispel the notion that the Orioles had a special game plan. "It takes a few things for something like that to happen," he said of the Texas hitting drought.
"You have to have talent -- and there's no doubt those three guys are talented. You also have to be fortunate."
But when a pitching staff throws a one-hitter [Mussina], two-hitter [McDonald] and three-hitter [Rhodes and company] in successive games, more than a few people are doing something right. The fact that all three of those games were started by pitchers who are 24, or younger, serves to emphasize the point.