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Rhodes' perfect situation is an expensive one


It isn't exactly what they had planned, but the Orioles may have stumbled on the perfect role for Arthur Rhodes -- at least for the time being.

The problem is that the role requires such a decidedly negative side effect that the Orioles can't afford to provide Rhodes with many similar chances.

It took a six-run, first-inning outburst against staff ace Mike Mussina to present Rhodes, in his first career relief appearance, with the kind of opportunity he's never had in 59 major-league starts.

The Kansas City Royals had their lineup stacked with six left-handed hitters against Mussina. Because of the early scoring binge and the probability that another right-hander would surface before the game was over, Royals manager Bob Boone had no reason to turn his lineup around.

And Rhodes took full advantage of the situation. In seven innings, he allowed only three hits and one run while striking out a career-high 10 in what might have been the most impressive performance of his career.

However, as impressive as Rhodes' performance was, it has to be marked with an asterisk. Those six left-handed hitters who were in the lineup to face Mussina, for the most part, remained around to face Rhodes through most of the seven innings he worked.

That provided the hard-throwing left-hander with the kind of luxury he's never had as a starter. If manager Phil Regan can continue to spot Rhodes against a predominantly left-handed-hitting lineup, he'd probably have a very effective relief pitcher.

Of course, that isn't the role that has been projected for Rhodes, but for the time being it could be the best way for the Orioles to use him. But the only way it will do them any good is if Regan can find those spots in games other than ones in which the Orioles fall substantially behind early in the game.

If Rhodes can continue to display the kind of control he did two nights ago, then he could be an ideal setup man. With right-handers Doug Jones and Armando Benitez established as the closer and heir apparent, opposing teams will be reluctant to remove their left-handed hitters. Rhodes should be able to thrive in those situations, and they could also provide a needed confidence boost.

Barring injury, Rhodes does not figure as a starter in the immediate future, but he's not the type who can pitch sporadically and maintain consistent effectiveness.

Having Rhodes available could influence Regan to move quicker when his right-handed starters struggle in the early innings.

But it won't work to anybody's advantage if those opportunities are accompanied by a six-run deficit.

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