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O's may strike it rich, farming young pitchers


The bad news for Arthur Rhodes is that he's still in Rochester. The good news for the talented but erratic left-hander is that he almost certainly will stay there until after the impending strike is resolved.

The bottom line in this scenario is that Rhodes will continue to pitch at the Triple-A level, where his exposure has still been minimal, and he'll also continue to draw a paycheck. The same is true for Mike Oquist, who was sent to Rochester earlier in the week, and within the next two weeks the Orioles also will find a way to get Armando Benitez back to the minor leagues.

For the time being, however, manager Johnny Oates wants to get as long a look at Benitez as possible. That's one reason Rhodes was left at Rochester to pitch last night instead of being summoned to face the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards tonight.

Barring a rainout, the Orioles still have to come up with another starting pitcher for Monday night's game in Minnesota. But it's not likely to be a new face who figures to remain on the scene.

With a strike looming in less than two weeks, trade talks have all but bottomed out, even though the Orioles are continuing to scout for long-range possibilities. At this stage, trading a live prospect for a potential free agent would be a desperation move that could result in dire consequences down the road.

A major concern for the Orioles between now and the beginning of a strike will be finding a way to juggle their 25-man roster. Because of the uncertainty, they have to remain as competitive as possible, while at the same time, not stifling the progress of their younger players.

With that in mind, the Orioles probably would be interested if they could pick up a veteran pitcher. But only one who wouldn't require compensation in the form of a prime prospect.

Oates had reason to be excited about the major-league debut of Benitez, who blanked the Indians for 2 2/3 innings Thursday night. He has the potential to be an outstanding closer in the future -- and might be ready to contribute right now.

However, the Orioles are not going to risk having Benitez idle for a prolonged period during a strike, so he is certain to make a return trip to the minors. Having Benitez, Rhodes and Oquist working regularly during the strike could work to the Orioles' advantage when, or if, play resumes.

That could result in the Orioles having only 24 men on their active roster when the strike starts. Such a move wouldn't be popular with all of the owners, but some of the other clubs might use the same tactic.

General manager Roland Hemond won't indicate what his plans are, but did say that "having 24 players is within the rules." And that, quite possibly, is the route the Orioles will follow.

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