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07/30/08 7:23 PM ET

Rhodes has come a long way

Left-handed reliever having strong season after surgery

ARLINGTON -- Veteran Mariners left-hander Arthur Rhodes admits that he never expected his comeback from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery to go quite like this.

The 38-year-old went into Wednesday night's game against the Rangers with a record of 2-0, with a 2.53 ERA in 35 relief appearances. But that only scratches the surface of what he has meant to one of the best bullpens in the Major Leagues this season.

"You know, it really doesn't matter what his stats are," bullpen coach Norm Charlton said. "One bad outing can screw up your stats for a long time. I think that if you look at the bulk of Arthur's work, I would say 90-plus percent of his outings have been just fantastic."

A perfect example came during Monday night's series opener against the Rangers.

He entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with a one-run lead, and preserved it by working his way out of a two-on, no-out predicament, striking out Major League RBI leader Josh Hamilton for the final out of the inning.

It was the 31st time in his 35 outings this season that Rhodes did not allow a run, and extended his consecutive scoreless streak to 18 appearances -- dating to May 25.

"I didn't expect this," he said. "I didn't expect this at all."

How could he?

Rhodes underwent reconstructive elbow surgery on May 2, 2007, and wasn't sure if he would ever throw another pitch in the big leagues. His age was a strike against him, but his determination was a bigger strike in his favor.

"When you set your mind to do something, you go out and do it," he said. "After having the surgery, I set my mind to do this, and I knew I had to bust my tail. I didn't know how well I was going to do, but I wanted to go out there and pitch in a big league game again."

The pursuit became a reality on April 15, when he pitched one-third of an inning against the Royals at Safeco Field, his first appearance in a Major League game since Sept. 9, 2006.

He was back, but considerably different than when he departed.

Rhodes no longer is the mid-90s, challenge-the-hitters-with-a-fastball gunslinger that he was during his first stint with the Mariners, from 2000 through '03. His second season with Seattle was the best of his 16-year MLB career, as he appeared in 71 games, had a 6-0 record, posted a 1.72 ERA and struck out 83 batters in 68 innings, while walking just 13 for the record-setting Mariners in '01.

"When I as young, I'd just let the ball go," he said, smiling. "Now, I try to hit corners and use all my pitches."

Charlton, one of Rhodes' biggest supporters, credits the development of a slider and changeup for Rhodes' excellent work this season.

"I don't want to put words in his mouth, but it seems to me that when he made a concentrated effort to come back from surgery, he didn't know exactly where his fastball was going to be, [velocity-wise], and he needed another pitch. His fastball is still good enough, but he concentrated on making his slider better throughout his rehab."

And look at the slider now.

"There have been days when his slider is so good, he could tell the hitter one is coming, and he still couldn't hit it," Charlton said.

Rhodes' fastball reaches home plate consistently traveling around 90 mph, down about 5 or 6 mph from his prime. The slider and changeup have made him a better pitcher, however.

"I'm more of a pitcher now," he admits. "And this is fun to me. I'm just out there having fun."

"He has done exactly what we've asked him to do," Charlton said, "And that is to come in and get lefties out in crucial situations. On top of that, he's done a pretty good job of getting the right-handed pinch-hitters they've used against him."

Lefties are 7-for-38 (.184) with no home runs and four RBIs against him, while right-handers are 9-for-34 (.265) with no home runs and one RBI.

"I'm not amazed by what Arthur has done, because I know Arthur, and he's very professional about what he does," Charlton said. "'Impressed' would be a better word."

Rhodes has pitched so well that his name has come up in numerous pre-non-waiver Trade Deadline rumors. The Marlins, Mets and Phillies all could use some bullpen help.

"I don't pay any attention to them," Rhodes said of the rumors.

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