Rhodes' pain is auditioning Bolton's gain

INSIDE PITCH

May 07, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

For the time being at least, the most significant thing about the injury to Arthur Rhodes is that it gives manager Johnny Oates another chance to try his preferred bullpen alignment.

Such are the tribulations of being a fifth starter in the big leagues.

Had any of the other four starters suffered the same injury (a slight case of tendinitis in the left knee), they likely would've missed one start. Three off days in a 12-day period would have allowed the rotation to function practically without disruption.

But in Rhodes' case, the chance to add a second left-handed reliever was an option too easy for Oates to ignore. And it gave Tom Bolton the opportunity for a two-week audition to win a job and extend what has been a checkered big-league career.

Bolton, in effect, inherits the role Brad Pennington was unable to fill during the first three weeks of the season. It will be more clearly defined, and different, than any he's had previously in the major leagues.

"With some of the lineups [the Orioles will face], you often need a 'short' left-hander in the fifth and sixth innings as well as the seventh and eighth," said Oates. "If we need to get [John] Olerud, [Mo] Vaughn, [Don] Mattingly or [Wade] Boggs out in the fifth or sixth inning, we'll use Bolton and have [Jim] Poole for the later innings."

Oates indicated that he'll probably restrict Bolton to no more than a few hitters at a time, with left-handers being his main responsibility. In the past Bolton has been primarily a reliever, but 56 of his 187 big-league appearances have been as a starter, including eight of 43 last year with the Tigers.

The specialized workload could be a boon to his career, much as it was for Mike Flanagan, who pitched to a 2.38 ERA over 98 1/3 innings over 64 games in 1991.

"If you're going to keep a job in the major leagues," said Oates, "I would think the fewer hitters you had to face the better opportunity you'd have to succeed."

Not that Bolton's task will be an easy one. When your livelihood depends on being successful against the likes of Ken Griffey, Will Clark, Olerud, Mattingly, etc., the chore can have a strangling effect.

Pennington certainly can attest to that, having allowed seven hits in eight at-bats while facing left-handers. It was a long, game-winning home run by Griffey that drove Pennington all the way to Triple-A Rochester and ultimately led to another chance for Bolton.

While Rhodes takes a couple of weeks to mend his knee, and work on refining his control, Bolton is the beneficiary.

He will be judged almost solely on his ability to get left-handed hitters out. If he succeeds, he'll stay. It's as simple, and difficult, as that.

Check back in two weeks.

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