Rhodes shakes off rust an inning at a time Miller plans to ease load on left-hander by limiting appearances from bullpen

Orioles Notebook

August 20, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Having returned to the Orioles after six weeks on the disabled list, reliever Arthur Rhodes is being eased back into the bullpen mix. For now, manager Ray Miller said he'll try to limit the left-hander to one inning per appearance.

A strained left elbow had deprived the Orioles of Rhodes' services since July 4 in New York. He tossed a scoreless eighth inning in Tuesday's 7-1 win over Minnesota, striking out one and needing only 11 pitches before turning the game over to Jesse Orosco.

"I feel a little rusty, but it was good to be back on a good mound," said Rhodes, who made a rehabilitation start at Triple-A Richmond before being activated. "I warmed up all right. I felt pretty good. I'll just take each game the same and try not to overthrow.

"When I got that first pitch out of the way, I was all right. I just wanted to go out and get all my pitches over the plate."

Miller said: "He looked fine to me, nice and smooth. I forgot what it looked like. It's nice bringing in a lefty throwing 94-95 mph with a good slider. And he had a good slider. He wasn't throwing it as much the last few times he pitched because of his elbow."

Rhodes said he was available again last night. "Not to go two or three innings, but I'm ready."

The injury interrupted an impressive stretch for Rhodes. He has allowed just six earned runs and struck out 35 in his past 13 appearances covering 29 innings. At the time he went on the DL, Rhodes was third in the league among relievers with 57 1/3 innings.

"I've just got to keep my head up and throw the ball like I did the first half," he said.

Decision due on Drabek

Pitching coach Mike Flanagan will check with Doug Drabek today to see whether the right-hander will pitch a simulated game in the Orioles' bullpen or throw batting practice, with the next step most likely taking him to the minor leagues on a rehab assignment. Rosters can be expanded on Sept. 1, and he may have to wait until then unless the discomfort in Scott Kamieniecki's upper back would knock him from the rotation.

Drabek, 36, has one victory since May 28, and it came more than a month ago. A free agent again after the season, Drabek said how he pitches and feels upon his return will help determine whether he retires. He'll also sit down with his wife and three children and see if he's needed more at home.

"Family-wise, I'll definitely take that into account," he said. "I know it would help my wife out if I was home more often, with three kids in school. And all three of them have things after school that they do. My little girl (Kelsey, 6) would like me to be home. I know that. And the boys (Justin, 11 and Kyle, 9) want me to be home because they almost play baseball year round, and I miss almost half of it. Then again, they enjoy going wherever I play and getting to go out on the field with me. We might take a vote."

This is Drabek's 13th season in the majors, beginning with the New York Yankees in 1986. He is 6-9 with a 7.07 ERA.

"If I hadn't played for so long, if I was still only halfway through with this, it wouldn't be that big of a decision," he said. "But I guess for everybody there comes a time when things aren't the same. And with a family, the older they get, the more responsibilities there are.

"I haven't thought about it much. I didn't want to think about it too much until after the baseball part's over with. I can sit down and look at the big picture."

Ripken average on rise

All the tinkering that Cal Ripken has done with his stance continues to pay. Three more hits last night raised his average to .280, its highest point since May 1.

His bat speed appears to have increased, allowing him to get around better on inside fastballs. His hitting streak increased to eight games, and he has reached base by a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in 43 consecutive games, and 53 of 55.

"He's knocking the [heck] out of the ball, I know that," Miller said. "Everybody has talked about whether he should step down or not, and he's played every game and he's been better the last three weeks than he's been all year.

"He makes changes. As a manager, I don't care if he stands on his head if he hits the ball the way he's hitting it now. But he does try to make adjustments and I think that's better than guys who stand in one spot for three months and don't do anything."

Miller also said Ripken has been more agile at third base than during the first half of the season. "He had slowed down sometimes. It was a little obvious on turf, day games after night games. But everybody slows down."

Ripken needs one more hit to tie Brooks Robinson's club record. Ripken played in his 2,604th consecutive game last night, including 473 in a row since breaking Lou Gehrig's record.

Davis told to take seat

As promised, Miller kept Eric Davis out of the starting lineup despite his two home runs the previous night. Ripken, Chris Hoiles and Mike Bordick were the only right-handed hitters to start against Tampa Bay right-hander Rolando Arrojo.

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