ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Ben McDonald stood at his locker and slowly peeled off his baseball uniform. The Rochester Red Wings pitcher couldn't help but feel as if another curve, more wicked than his own "Big Nasty," had been tossed his way.

Two hours earlier, McDonald had been on the mound at Silver Stadium, pitching masterfully against the Louisville Redbirds. Then it started pouring, and the Baltimore Orioles' 1989 top draft pick was forced to sit and watch while the grounds crew dragged the tarpaulin across the infield.

The game resumed 76 minutes later, but McDonald's work shift was over prematurely after 5 2/3 innings because Manager Greg Biagini was concerned his young pitcher's right arm had tightened during the delay.

"First the muscle pull, then the blister on my pitching hand, and now the rain," McDonald said. "I was feeling really strong too. I felt I easily could have gone nine innings. Then -- wouldn't you know it -- it starts raining. That's been the way it's gone for me all season. I get something good going, then something happens to interrupt me. I wonder when it's all going to change."

Young McDonald is still on the farm, and growing restless. He wants to return to Baltimore as soon as possible, but he realizes that he first must string together a couple of long, productive starts.

"I've got to get some innings," said McDonald, who is 2-2 with a 2.32 ERA. "I think I've finally gotten my health back, and I'm gaining confidence in my ability to get all three of my pitches in the strike zone consistently, but I have to start stretching my starts out. I've been stuck on six innings. I need to get to the point where I'm going seven, eight, nine innings a start."

A strong spring earned McDonald a spot in the Orioles rotation, but during his final exhibition start on April 5 he pulled a muscle in his rib cage and was sent to Class AA Hagerstown, where he made two appearances before being assigned to AAA Rochester of the International League.

Many thought McDonald would be recalled by Baltimore when his rehabilitation stint was complete on May 22, but the Orioles decided he needed more work and reassigned him to the Red Wings.

"He's had an awful lot of bad luck, with injuries and such, and we don't want to rush him," said Doug Melvin, the Orioles' player personnel director. "We'd rather have him work things out now, and get some innings in, so that when he comes up he can jump right into the rotation. The key for him is putting together three or four good starts. We don't have a timetable {for his recall}, but I don't think it will be much longer."

Melvin said the Orioles want to be sure that the blister that caused McDonald to miss a May 30 start is completely healed. "The bottom line is that when we bring him up, we want to bring him up for good," Melvin said. "We don't want a yo-yo situation, where he's up and down, up and down."

McDonald pitched with a Band-Aid on his finger during his June 3 start against Louisville, which he lost by 3-1, giving him consecutive defeats for the first time since 1987, his sophomore season at Louisiana State.

"The finger felt good," he said. "It's all healed up. For the first time I feel like I'm in a position, healthwise, to get into a good groove. I'm hoping my bad luck has bottomed out."

Biagini said he is impressed with the way McDonald has handled his setbacks: "I think he's done a really good job of keeping his composure considering the bad luck he's had. He hasn't moped or sulked. He's fit in real well with his teammates. There's none of this, 'I'm the number one draft pick, who are you?' stuff on his part. He behaves like your basic 22-year-old kid."

McDonald wiles away his time between starts playing golf, going to the movies and daydreaming about a return to the big leagues. Watching several of his Red Wings teammates, including catcher Chris Hoiles, receive callups this spring has only whetted his appetite.

"I talked to Chris before he left and wished him good luck in Baltimore," McDonald said. "He told me, 'Good luck to you too. I'll see you in Baltimore soon.' I hope he's right."