Rhodes out to answer what-ifs

March 20, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In the past, whenever Arthur Rhodes' situation with the Orioles has been discussed, it has always been qualified. And it always began with the same word -- "if."

As in, "if Arthur Rhodes can win a spot." Or "if Arthur Rhodes can throw strikes." Or "if Arthur Rhodes learns to change speeds."

The 23-year-old left-hander thinks the time has come to eliminate the word "if" from his vocabulary. "I know people are always saying 'if he can do this or that,' and I'm trying to eliminate that this spring," said Rhodes.

"I just told myself to throw it in the zone, get strikes like I can, and get some ground balls. And I feel real good about this spring training."

Both Rhodes and manager Johnny Oates were particularly pleased with the left-hander's performance yesterday. Rhodes became the first Orioles pitcher to go six innings, and he did it by throwing only 67 pitches.

In the process, Rhodes walked only one and gave up five hits (including a two-run homer by Pedro Munoz) as the Orioles outlasted the Minnesota Twins, 11-9.

"I liked everything about what I saw today," Oates said after Rhodes' impressive outing. "We've got a game plan and this was a start."

Oates has been among those who always qualified any discussion of Rhodes, and he said that isn't going to change. Asked if it wasn't time to take the wraps off and send Rhodes out there on a regular basis, Oates shook his head.

"Not on this club," he said. "We can't afford to send someone out there every fifth day if we don't know if he's going to throw strikes. And Arthur knows that.

"He and I have talked and he also knows I can't go to him before every big game and tell him he's got to throw strikes or else. You do that often enough, and pretty soon you have to do 'or else.' "

This is hardly the first time Rhodes has elicited the kind of enthusiasm he created yesterday. But Oates saw some signs that he hopes are an indication of what's ahead.

"When's the last time you heard of an umpire [Tim Welke] saying 'Is this the same guy?' He [Rhodes] was around the plate all day.

"He's only walked two in his last two starts [10 innings] and today he had only one inning where he threw more than 13 pitches," said Oates.

Without going into detail, Oates indicated that he and pitching coach Dick Bosman have instituted some subtle changes with Rhodes -- one physical, the other mental. "Bos has been $H tinkering a little bit with Arthur's delivery, and I've been tinkering a little bit with the catcher [Chris Hoiles], telling him what we want to do," said Oates.

"I'd rather not elaborate on it. Let's let it ride and see what happens. I've seen a great deal of improvement in his last two starts."

With Sid Fernandez at least temporarily on the sidelines, Rhodes looms bigger in the Orioles' plans than he did a month ago, when he appeared to be bidding for the fifth spot in the rotation. Barring a trade, and general manager Roland Hemond doesn't act like someone who's ready to deliver another body any time soon, Rhodes now is projected to take a regular turn as the fourth starter.

And if he can continue to throw the way he did yesterday, then maybe, just maybe, Arthur Rhodes can get rid of the "ifs" that have plagued him throughout his career. He knows there's only one person who can make that happen -- himself.

ORIOLES TODAY

Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

Site: St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time: 1:05 p.m.

TV: Channel 13

% Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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