Rhodes getting better with age

Rhodes getting better with age

CINCINNATI -- If 40 is the new 30, then Reds lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes is pitching like he's around 24 or 25.

Rhodes, who really is 40 years old, has quietly been amassing a staggering pile of zeroes this season. He has a super-stingy 0.31 ERA through 31 appearances, with his only run allowed in his second game of the season. It's the best among National League relievers with a minimum of 28 innings pitched.

Following his latest scoreless inning on Thursday vs. the Dodgers, Rhodes has strung together 27 consecutive scoreless frames over 29 appearances.

Rhodes rarely does interviews with reporters, and out of superstition, would have immediately shut down any attempts to broach his scoreless streak. The workman-like Rhodes just sees himself as a guy fulfilling his job description as a late-inning set-up man.

"I try to be competitive every day," Rhodes said. "I try to do better every day. If I do well today, I try to do better tomorrow. I keep my mind focused."

Even Reds closer Francisco Cordero wanted no questions about what Rhodes has accomplished for fear of bringing bad luck.

"Leave him alone," said Cordero before the interview about Rhodes even started. He did talk about Rhodes the pitcher and person he's grown to know the past two seasons.

"It's amazing what he's doing," Cordero said. "They say he's 40, but it doesn't look like it. It looks like he's in his early 20s. He's probably throwing harder right now.

"You put him in the seventh, he'll do the job. You put him in the eighth, he'll do the job. If you put him in the ninth, he'll do the job. He's not only doing his job on the field, but off the field. Personally speaking about myself, he's been helping me a lot. I may be the closer, but I've learned a lot from Arthur. It's amazing all the stuff he brings to this team."

According to The Elias Sports Bureau, Rhodes' scoreless streak is the longest by a pitcher in his 40s since the Rangers' Kenny Rogers (age 40) had 30 innings without a run in 2005. No reliever has put together 29 straight scoreless appearances since the A's Brad Ziegler in 2008.

Rhodes is on the verge of breaking the longest scoreless streak by any Reds pitcher -- John Franco's 27 1/3 innings in 1988.

A pitcher finishing a full season with an ERA lower than his age is so rare that it's only happened once with the minimum of 26 innings pitched. In 1908 for the Phillies, Earl Moore had a 0.00 ERA. If you bump the minimum up to 30 innings pitched, though, no one has ever done it.

"I am happy for him -- that is quite the streak. I had no idea," Cardinals lefty reliever Trever Miller said. "I think it is more difficult to have a long streak out of the bullpen than as a starter. Because you can't rack up the innings, you have to go out there for months and throw up scoreless innings and keep yourself sharp, and that is very hard to do. Some days you aren't quite as sharp with your control or your command, your strength even. You can't get overused."

Rhodes, who has allowed only two of 20 inherited runners to score and 14 hits total, has also been pitching through a sore foot and has had the added responsibility of being the only consistently reliable Reds reliever this season in the seventh or eighth innings.

Manager Dusty Baker has had the tight line to toe of needing to use Rhodes to get wins and not overusing him.

"I try not to go more than a couple of days in a row with him," Baker said. "I try not to go more than one-inning stints with him. Otherwise, I have to give him a couple of days off. It makes it tough when he's the hottest guy in your bullpen. But you also know that he's 40 years old. I've got to have him in July, August, September and hopefully, October. If you wear down one of your main horses, then what do you have?"

Set-up men rarely get attention, so it will be interesting to see if Rhodes gets deserved consideration for the NL All-Star team. Reds fans have taken notice and often give him hearty ovations after each recent outing.

Thursday's 7-1 Reds over the Dodgers proved to be an unexpected test, as Rhodes gave up two singles and a two-out walk to load the bases in the eighth inning. He escaped when he got a groundout to the shortstop from a very challenging foe in pinch-hitter Manny Ramirez.

All of this from someone who got his professional start as an 18-year-old in 1988. At the time, Reds rookie starter Mike Leake -- born in 1987 -- was only a few months old. Several members of the young Reds were toddlers when Rhodes broke into the Majors in 1991 with the Orioles.

"It's not every day you see someone with that much time in the game and that age doing what he's doing," said 23-year-old Reds right fielder Jay Bruce. "As far as performance-wise, you wouldn't know how old he is. He's doing his job, pretty much, the best it can be done. I know I feel good when he comes into the game."

Rhodes' performances have remained strong, if not better, since he had Tommy John surgery in 2007. He returned with a 2.04 ERA in 61 games for the Mariners and Marlins in 2008. He signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Reds before 2009 and had a 2.53 ERA in 66 games last season.

"The way I look at it, you have to come to Spring training in shape, take care of your body," Rhodes said. "Me, I just focus on my workouts in the offseason and prepare myself for Spring Training. I've been doing the same thing for the last 18 years. I know most pitching coaches don't like this -- I don't throw off of the mound. I just do a lot of long toss, play catch and that's it."

Although he often displays a quiet demeanor in public, Rhodes is viewed as a vocal clubhouse leader, not just of the bullpen, but for the team as its most senior player.

"This is a guy you want to look up to," Cordero said.

With the Reds in first place by a half-game over the Cardinals in the NL Central, Rhodes can smell the opportunity of his first postseason experience since 2001 with the Mariners.

"That's a lot of motivation for me to keep doing what I'm doing," Rhodes said. "I think if everybody else keeps doing what they're doing and stay focused, we can ride this thing out."

And what would be next, playoffs or not? More pitching for the Reds, Rhodes hoped. It's a topic that's already been broached with general manager Walt Jocketty.

"Like I told Walt, I want to come back here and keep pitching for these guys," said Rhodes, who turns 41 on Oct. 24. "I love it here. It's a good team with a young group of guys that love the game. I think the young guys keep me going. I love being around these guys. I think that's why I'm still playing. I love the game and I'm having fun."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.