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Ailing O's press Rhodes into early service


For Arthur Rhodes, this is an all too familiar picture. Once nTC again he's arriving from the minor leagues ahead of schedule.

And once again he's returning to the big leagues more out of necessity, rather than a normal progression. Always, it seems, he's in a similar situation -- on trial in a big game.

Soon the trial will end and the jury -- the Orioles' panel of decision makers -- will render a verdict. It's not so much that Rhodes hasn't earned his latest promotion -- he was 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts with Triple-A Rochester. It's just that manager Phil Regan would've preferred a longer mechanical rehabilitation program in the minor leagues.

But when Scott Klingenbeck (2-1) is your only starting pitcher with a winning record and your team is eight games under .500, you learn to adjust. Desperate situations require desperate measures.

The Orioles would've liked to see Rhodes spend enough time at Rochester to dominate Triple-A hitters, build his shattered confidence, then make a smooth transition back into their starting rotation. Of course, they would've liked it even more if Rhodes had picked up where he left off last season and not required a demotion in the first place.

But, after winning his first decision against Minnesota on April 30, Rhodes went south before heading north to Rochester with an 8.10 ERA. The disappointing starts by Rhodes and Sid Fernandez left Regan and the Orioles in a bind.

With a team that was scoring far below expectations, the Orioles found themselves out of games before the seventh-inning stretch. Eventually, Regan couldn't wait any longer on either.

Rhodes and Fernandez both went to the minors -- the former on option, the later on a rehabilitation program as much mental as physical. Now, with Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald both struggling, the Orioles are searching for arms.

Enter Rhodes. Just in time to pitch the pivotal game in a three-game series against the Yankees.

After breaking a seven-game losing streak last night, the Orioles can clinch the series and give themselves a chance for a sweep with a win tonight.

These are not the circumstances Regan envisioned for the return of Rhodes. But you rarely get a chance to pick your spots in baseball.

The Orioles, and Regan, can only hope Rhodes comes back to the big leagues like he did a year ago -- two straight shutouts before a strike (of all things) shut him down.

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