Cushion was a comfort for Rhodes

SIDELIGHT

April 27, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

There is always a crossroads moment or two in an Arthur Rhodes start, and yesterday's effort against Oakland was no exception.

Rhodes, who struck out eight and held the Athletics to a career-low three hits in the Orioles' 10-4 victory, had another of those moments in the fourth inning, when he gave up two walks and a two-run triple and wild-pitched in another run, all with two outs.

But, for a change, Rhodes had enough support on the front end of his trip -- namely a 6-1 lead going into the fourth, and enough staying power, specifically retiring the last 16 hitters, to make it pay off.

"I got a little clumsy in the fourth inning, but I told myself, 'If you settle down, you can go nine,' and I did it," said Rhodes.

The odds of Rhodes' throwing the Orioles' first complete game of the 1994 season -- and not Ben McDonald or Mike Mussina -- were long.

It's not that Rhodes' 136-pitch effort, which earned him his first Camden Yards victory, is a fluke.

Time and again, he has dazzled teammates and opponents with a blazing fastball and sharp breaking stuff.

But, just as frequently, the 24-year-old left-hander has perplexed fans and foes alike with lapses of concentration, where he seemingly can't throw the ball over the plate early in the count, then gives up a hit or walk later in the count.

To be sure, injuries, primarily a loose fragment in his left knee that kept him sidelined for almost three months last season, and the fact that he has pitched only 237 1/3 big-league innings, have slowed Rhodes' progress, but his control hasn't helped, either.

"He's got plenty of stuff," said manager Johnny Oates. "He doesn't get hurt with a base hit. He gets hurt with a walk or two, then a base hit trying to get an out."

Said pitching coach Dick Bosman: "It's like sitting on a practice green with an 8-iron. It's a matter of consistency. When you do it under fire, that's when it counts."

But yesterday, Rhodes had a couple things going for him that have been largely absent in his first three starts this year.

For one, Rhodes had run support. The Orioles' three-, five- and six-run leads marked the first time all year that he had a margin of more than a run to play with.

"What was the score? That was the difference," said Oates.

Said Rhodes: "That [a lead] did help me out. The runs pumped me up. Once we got a lead, I said, 'Throw it right down the middle of the plate or throw it on the corner and let them hit it.' "

Indeed, eight of Rhodes' final 16 outs in his first complete game since he threw a five-hit shutout in New York on July 29, 1992, were fly balls to the outfield, but half his strikeouts were mixed in as well.

That leads to the second factor in Rhodes' performance: his control. For a change, Rhodes got ahead and stayed ahead of hitters, keeping them off-balance all day, switching from breaking pitches to fastballs with success.

"He got his breaking ball over the plate," said Bosman. "He showed the hitters that he's able to throw something other than the fastball for a strike. Now it's called a matter of consistency."

Indeed, if Rhodes can string together 10 or more of these type efforts, the Orioles may well strike it rich this season.

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