Rhodes' return outing leaves club encouraged

June 29, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

CLEVELAND -- Here's an upset.

On a night they lost, 9-8, a night they allowed three home runs, the Orioles were pleased with their starting pitcher, Arthur Rhodes.

If you're expecting the Orioles to put Rhodes on the next plane to Rochester, forget it. Manager Johnny Oates said the left-hander will pitch again Sunday against California.

Rhodes allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings, including back-to-back homers by Manny Ramirez and Candy Maldonado. Still, the consensus was, this was a major step forward.

"Arthur pitched as well as I've seen him pitch," Oates said. "I've seen him throw better, but I liked the way he used his breaking ball, his changeup. If he continues to pitch that way, I think he has a chance to win."

So, on a night they tied the score with a dramatic five-run rally, a night they lost on a game-winning homer by Albert Belle off Alan Mills, the Orioles took solace in Rhodes.

He never would have earned his promotion if Sid Fernandez hadn't landed on the disabled list for the second time in three months. But maybe now he'll figure out a way to stay.

"He's improved," pitching coach Dick Bosman said. "He threw a lot more off-speed pitches over the plate, and he wasn't afraid to throw them behind in the count."

Rhodes' worst inning was the fourth, when he allowed back-to-back singles by Albert Belle and Eddie Murray and then the back-to-back home runs.

It was the Old Arthur, the Bad Arthur, but at least he settled down to retire the side. Oates removed him with two outs in the fifth, after he had thrown 88 pitches.

"I'm encouraged," Rhodes said. "I was throwing all my pitches for strikes in Rochester. Bos told me to just do the same thing. Tonight, I went out and did."

The Orioles saw enough to believe that he might provide the same boost he did in the second half of 1992.

That was the year they recalled Rhodes in July, and he went 7-5 with a 3.63 ERA. Since then, he's 6-12 with a 7.21 ERA, but the club is reluctant to give up on him, knowing he's only 24.

In any case, it was a good thing the Orioles could put a positive spin on Rhodes' performance, because it took place on a night when other candidates pitched better.

A night when former Oriole Fernando Valenzuela allowed one unearned run in six innings in his first start for Philadelphia.

A night when right-hander Jimmy Haynes made his Triple-A debut for Rochester with an impressive 7-1 victory over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

And a night when Rochester left-hander Rick Krivda responded to another Orioles snub by pitching a three-hit shutout in the second game of the doubleheader.

Krivda was upset when he was bypassed for Double-A's Scott Klingenbeck on June 2. His parents were so certain he'd be promoted this time, they were planning to make the trip to Cleveland from McKeesport, Pa.

Alas, the Orioles chose Rhodes.

He's averaging only 4 2/3 innings per start. He's allowing a whopping 16.48 base runners per nine innings. And if his results don't improve soon, he'll no longer be considered a prospect.

An American League scout witnessed Rhodes' final Triple-A start in Charlotte, when he allowed one earned run in eight innings, struck out eight and walked two.

It was an impressive performance -- on paper. The scout said Rhodes was so erratic, he never repeated his delivery three times in a row, and never threw three strikes in a row.

The Orioles chose Rhodes over Krivda because of his major-league experience. But his problem is the same as it has always been -- he doesn't have enough minor-league experience.

Haynes, 21, was drafted three years behind Rhodes out of Troup County (Ga.) High. But in four professional seasons, he has thrown nearly as many minor-league innings.

How is that possible? Because Rhodes is always getting injured, or getting promoted. He never had an adequate chance to develop. It's no wonder he lacks polish.

Haynes, a seventh-round pick in 1991, is following the proper route, step by step, in logical fashion. The Orioles rushed Rhodes and Ben McDonald. This time, maybe they'll get it right.

After going 8-4 at Double-A Bowie, Haynes last night replaced Rhodes in the Rochester rotation and came within one out of a seven-inning complete game in his Triple-A debut.

Haynes leads the organization with 115 strikeouts in 109 2/3 innings, but ideally, he'll stay at Rochester the entire season. Ditto for Krivda, who is 41-16 as a professional.

Ideally, Rhodes would be at Rochester, too. But Fernandez is hurt, and Fernando is in Philadelphia. Rhodes is 13-20 with a 5.96 ERA in the majors, and he's the best available option.

The upset is, the Orioles don't mind.

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