TONIGHT: Mesa's return reunites four M's, mercifully moves Rhodes back


TORONTO -- With Jose Mesa returning to the starting rotation this weekend, the Orioles will cut short their late-season look at lefthander Arthur Rhodes.

"If everything goes right, the four M's will get six starts each the rest of the way," said manager John Oates, referring to Ben McDonald, Bob Milacki, Mike Mussina and Mesa.

Milacki (8-7, 4.01) will face Todd Stottlemyre (12-6, 3.78) as the Orioles conclude their season series against the Blue Jays here tonight (7:35, HTS).

"I've got Rhodes penciled in for two more starts [Tuesday night against the Yankees and a week from Sunday against Cleveland] and he might get one other one along the way," said Oates.

Originally the Orioles had planned to give Rhodes nine straight starts during the season's final seven weeks. The idea was to get as much of an early line on the lefthander as possible in preparation for next year.

However, Rhodes got a rude greeting to the big leagues in his first three starts, giving up 16 hits and as many earned runs in 11 innings. Opposing batters are hitting .348 against him and the Orioles are wary of undermining his confidence before Rhodes can get settled in the big leagues.

As matters now stand, there are three games -- one in New York, one at home against Boston and the last day of the season against Detroit -- that remain open on Oates' pitching chart. Rhodes could get the starting assignment against the Yankees, giving him six for the season, but doesn't figure to get either of the other two.

If the final game has no bearing on Detroit's position in the race, Oates has indicated he may use as many pitchers as reasonably possible, with Mike Flanagan the obvious sentimental choice to pitch the final inning.

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