Maturing Rhodes takes first-pitch first step


The education of Arthur Rhodes continues, but it is far from complete.

Since he wasn't playing with horseshoes or hand grenades, Rhodes gets no bonus points for being close last night. He was, however, better than his pitching line would indicate.

There was a lot to like about the young left-hander's performance. His control was much better than it has been in the past; he showed resiliency in avoiding a potentially big third inning; there was some imagination in his pitch selection; and he didn't give in to the hitters.

But, and this is known as a big but in baseball, he also didn't win which, despite all the other niceties, is what the game is all about.

When Rhodes closely analyzes his most recent effort, he'll discover the main reason he didn't succeed is directly related to his most impressive statistic of the night. By IP's unofficial count, Rhodes threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 22 hitters he faced, a drastic improvement in a vital category.

That's the good news. The bad news is that all five of the hitters to whom he got behind reached base, three of them scored and another (Chuck Knoblauch) eventually stroked the double that drove in the game's first two runs.

First things first. No pitcher is expected to throw a first-pitch strike to every hitter. And doing so does not guarantee an out, just increases the rate of probability.

For two innings last night, Rhodes bordered on being unhittable, allowing only a bloop, opposite-field double to Marty Cordova. A ground ball single and an infield hit that bounced over his head cost Rhodes a pair of runs when Knoblauch doubled on a 3-and-2 fastball in the third.

In the past, the young left-hander might've lost his composure in that spot, but he escaped further damage. Two innings later, again on a 3-and-2 pitch with one out and Rich Becker running from first base, Rhodes got Knoblauch looking at a vicious slider and the ensuing double play ended the inning.

With a few runs on the scoreboard, Rhodes would've been in good position at that point.

But there was little margin for error, and Rhodes made a couple in the sixth inning. He fell behind against Pat Meares, who opened with a double, and compounded the mistake with a wild pitch.

Kirby Puckett squeezed a ground ball through the left side of the Orioles' drawn-up infield and when Pedro Munoz bounced another single to the same sector, Rhodes left with a 3-1 deficit. The last two runs charged to him came when Scott Leius grounded a triple to the opposite field off reliever Mike Oquist.

All of that left Rhodes with an uninspiring line: five-plus innings, eight hits and five earned runs. His pluses were five strikeouts and only one walk and throwing first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 22 batters.

The other five were the ones who caused all of the grief.

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