OAKLAND, Calif. – Arthur Rhodes(notes) doesn't want to talk about his quiet little streak. Won't jinx it by jabbering over why he's suddenly all but unhittable in his 19th major league season. Won't suddenly get full of himself at age 40.
The hulking Cincinnati Reds left-handed reliever hasn't surrendered a run in his last 32 appearances, spanning 29 innings. Cubs utility infielder Jeff Baker(notes) homered off him April 10, the only run Rhodes has allowed all season. His ERA is a ridiculous 0.29.
The team record for consecutive scoreless innings is 30 by Ted Abernathy in 1967, and the MLB mark for consecutive scoreless appearances is Michael Myers' 37. A left-handed reliever, Myers finished the 1999 season with four scoreless outings for the Brewers and opened the 2000 campaign with 33 for the Rockies. He often pitched to only one batter and logged just 17 2/3 innings during the streak, however, which started and ended with home runs.
Rhodes is close enough to both records that he's become superstitious, as if he's throwing a 10-weeklong perfect game. Mr. Scoreless on the mound is Mr. Wordless in the clubhouse, responding with a glare and a gruff, ''Nope,'' when asked if he wants to comment. Teammates, especially his bullpen mates, chat with him, but even they know a certain topic is off limits.
An All-Star berth would be Rhodes' first. He's been a serviceable reliever for the last decade and a half after beginning his career as a serviceable starter, and through the years he's been sometimes solid, other times horrendous. He's posted an ERA over 5.00 seven different seasons.
So, how to explain his sudden success when he won't help with the answers? To learn more about this quiet quadragenarian, to become a Rhodes scholar, if you will, a bit of research is helpful.
His rebirth began more than two years ago, after he had Tommy John surgery at age 37 and sat out the entire 2007 season. He was coming off a year with the Phillies so poor it appeared his career could be over: 0-5 with a 5.32 ERA in 55 games. Instead of retiring, he visited Dr. Lewis Yocum, a disciple of the master of the elbow ligament replacement procedure, Dr. Frank Jobe.
The Mariners gave Rhodes a minor league deal and spring training invite in 2008, and he proved his 90 mph fastball and biting slider were back. He was traded to the Marlins at midseason and was effective enough for both teams that GM Walt Jocketty, in his first move after going from the Cardinals to the Reds, gave Rhodes a two-year, $4 million deal.
In 100 appearances with Cincinnati, Rhodes has given up only 52 hits in 84 1/3 innings. Opposing batters have an average of .180 over that span and are hitting only .149 against him this year. He's markedly better than ever, even though among active pitchers only Trevor Hoffman(notes) and Mariano Rivera(notes) have more than his 814 career appearances.
For a guy who won't talk, Rhodes isn't going out quietly.
"He's throwing lights out," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He's 40 age-wise but not arm-wise. The Tommy John has rejuvenated some careers. A lot of guys have made a lot of money after the surgery."
Rehabbing from the surgery gave Rhodes an appreciation for working out. A thick, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he used to take his muscular build for granted. No longer. "Arthur works out as hard as anybody," Herrera said. "I think he wants to keep doing this for a few more years."
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Rhodes' late-career effectiveness is that he dominates by challenging hitters. He's no nibbler. He didn't get that tattoo of flames running down his left arm because he's lobbing the ball. Before he hit the mute button, Rhodes told the Cincinnati Enquirer about the importance of throwing inside, of establishing his fastball to set up his backdoor slider.
''Just watching him out there, he puts his conviction into what he's doing,'' Herrera said. ''He puts that energy into pitching. It's a testament to what he's done. He never backs down.''
Baker is careful not to overuse Rhodes, who has had a sore right foot for weeks. Rhodes hasn't pitched three days in a row all season, although five of the seven occasions he's gone on back-to-back days have come in June. The Reds need Rhodes if they hope to continue their surprising push at the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central crown.
''We've got to spot Arthur,'' Baker said. ''We've got to take care of Arthur, especially with the bad foot. We have a long way to go and we will need him down the stretch.
''Life without Arthur wouldn't be very pleasant.''
True enough, although nobody might notice his absence until Baker signaled to the bullpen.