Once again, Arthur Rhodes has given the Orioles reason to ask themselves the tantalizing question that has begged for an answer the past four seasons: Was this just another tease, or the real deal?
During his impressive eight-inning performance against the Boston Red Sox yesterday, the young left-hander didn't show anything he hasn't displayed in the past. He's been just as dominating on more than a few other occasions.
What has been lacking has been any pattern of consistency.
Rhodes was rushed to the big leagues out of desperation in 1991, at least a year, and maybe two, ahead of schedule. But his next full season in the big leagues will be his first -- and that's still a year away.
Although some might dispute this, the Orioles have never really had the opportunity to have patience with Rhodes. His promotions to the big leagues (the most recent was his fourth) have all been out of necessity (some might say desperation).
Partially because of his rapid acceleration, Rhodes' minor-league record is only 37-39. He has never pitched a full season at any level above Single-A -- and the only time he did that (1989) he split his time between Erie and Frederick.
That's an extremely nomadic existence for a 25-year-old who started his professional career less than a month out of high school. His trips to the big leagues have hardly been smooth -- for every game like yesterday's it seems as though there have been at least a dozen potholes.
There has been some sentiment, especially this year, to use Rhodes as a throw-in in a major trade. That's a dangerous way to do business, as a lot of teams have found.
Consider for a moment two remarkably similar pitching lines. Rhodes has pitched in 57 major-league games, with a 17-19 (.472) record. He's worked 301 1/3 innings, allowing 309 hits, with 165 walks, 232 strikeouts, compiling a not-so-tidy 5.70 ERA. He'll be 26 in October.
Now check out Pitcher B at an almost identical stage. He had appeared in 33 games, with a 10-13 (.435) record while pitching 166 2/3 innings, allowing 170 hits, 103 walks, striking out 155 and compiling an equally not-so-tidy ERA of 5.60.
Those numbers were the career totals of Randy Johnson after 1989, when he turned 26 on Sept. 10. He wouldn't still be there now, but is there any doubt the Montreal Expos regret putting Johnson in a trade that year for Mark Langston?
This is not to suggest Rhodes is a Randy Johnson in waiting. Johnson is easily the most dominating pitcher in the game. But, at one time, he was also the most erratic -- and after the 1992 season, at the age of 29, his record was barely over .500 (49-48).
As frustrating as it can be, making a negative judgment on 25-year-olds, especially pitchers with obvious raw ability, is dangerous. Rhodes proved it again yesterday.
But he still has a way to go before we know if it was another tease or the real deal.