WASHINGTON -- To pitching coach Al Jackson, th assignment was etched in stone.
But Dave Johnson wasn't so sure that he was to start the Baltimore Orioles' road opener Friday night against the Texas Rangers.
"Maybe he didn't hear me," said Jackson. "He's the third-game starter."
"It's had me boggled," said Johnson, who went four strong innings in yesterday's 4-1 exhibition loss to the Boston Red Sox at RFK Stadium. "Maybe they just haven't told me. But I'm not trying to read too much into it."
Johnson coveted the final Opening Day start at Memorial Stadium, an assignment that went to Jeff Ballard after Ben McDonald developed an elbow problem.
"I would have liked to get it," he said. "I felt the start should be mine because it usually goes to the guy who pitched most consistently the year before.
"It's a big deal. There is only one for each team. If I hadn't had a so-so spring, I think it would have been me. But Jeff had a great spring and he had a retroactive Opening Day coming to him because he was hurt.
"But I'd much rather have it next year."
Johnson was supposed to pitch three innings yesterday but went an extra inning because he had thrown fewer than 40 pitches through three.
"Two times on the side and he'll be ready," said Jackson. "We didn't want him not to pitch at all today because it would have been too long to hold him out."
* The Orioles will have to make a decision about McDonald, who is scheduled to throw in the bullpen today.
"I'm feeling a lot better," said McDonald, who has a strained muscle in his elbow. "I'm pain-free."
Whether to put McDonald on the disabled list retroactively is the question, and he is neutral on the matter.
"The first five days of the season they probably aren't going to let me pitch," he said. "So, it really doesn't matter. Either way, it's not a big deal."
McDonald said he is disappointed about missing the Opening Day start, but "I'd rather miss that and be there the rest of the year.
"I'm hoping to get all this out of my system now. I haven't had much luck in the spring. The guys are talking about me not going to spring training at all next year, so I can stay healthy."
* Ernie Whitt is expected to sign an Orioles contract today after making the team as a non-roster player. . . . The Orioles have played eight home exhibition games at five parks -- in Bradenton, Sarasota, Pompano Beach, Miami and Washington. . . . The four final cuts will be made after today's game. . . . The Oriole Advocates hold their 8K Home Run today at 9:30 a.m.. The race begins and ends at Memorial Stadium with an entry fee of $13 today. . . . Before yesterday, Boston's last game at RFK Stadium was in 1972, when it lost to the New York Mets, 4-1. . . . The left- and right-field lines at RFK are now 335 feet away from the plate with the power alleys at 385 and center field at 410. . . . Today's game will halt for one minute at 3 p.m. to join in President Bush's nationwide ringing of bells to celebrate the liberation of Kuwait and cessation of the Persian Gulf war. Bob Milacki will start for the Orioles today, followed by Roy Smith.