The Baltimore Orioles have begun discussions with left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes about extending his contract, which expires at the end of this season.

Dan Horwits, Rhodes's agent, characterized the discussions as "very preliminary," but said today there is a good chance a deal can be worked out before the end of the season, when Rhodes would become a free agent.

"Whether it gets done during the season or not," Horwits said, "Arthur's first choice is to remain in Baltimore."

Rhodes, 29, is in the last year of a contract that pays him $2.2 million in base salary this season. He has been a set-up man for most of his seven-plus years with the Orioles. But in recent weeks he has been elevated to a role of co-closer, along with right-hander Mike Timlin.

Orioles General Manager Frank Wren would not comment on the status of the negotiations, but said, "We would love to keep him. We think he's an important part of the club."

Horwits said he attempted to initiate discussions about a contract extension during the winter, but was never able to get together with the Orioles. Rhodes has said he would not negotiate a contract extension during the season, but Horwits said Rhodes has softened that stance.

Promising Display

The Orioles worked out one of their recent draft picks, left-handed pitcher Richard Stahl, at Turner Field before tonight's game. Stahl, 18, was taken with the 18th overall pick in the first round.

"He was quite impressive," Manager Ray Miller said. "He's a big, strong kid. He threw extremely well. There was no radar gun, but I'd say [his fastball] was way above 90 [miles per hour], with a tight breaking ball and a change-up. That's the way pitchers are supposed to look when they first come in: tall, thin and good arms."

CAPTION: Arthur Rhodes is in the last year of a contract that pays him $2.2 million in base salary this season. "We would love to keep him," GM Frank Wren said.