It's no opener, but Johnson, Orioles seek fresh start Pitcher looks to end slump

April 12, 1991|By Kent Baker

Dave Johnson naturally frets.

Almost eight years in the minor leagues taught him never to take anything for granted, so when the Baltimore Orioles' Opening Day start went first to Ben McDonald, then to Jeff Ballard, a disappointed Johnson took it in stride.

The team's biggest winner last year, finishing 13-9, Baltimore native Johnson coveted pitching the final opener at Memorial Stadium based on his performance last season.

But he had a mediocre spring, and manager Frank Robinson decided to wait to unveil the right-hander.

"I would have much rather opened at home," said Johnson. "All that hoopla and excitement bothers some people, but I eat it up. The fans are revved up, and you're one of the few people chosen to be in that position. How many times do you get to do that?"

For now, he has to be content with trying to help the team out of its two-game losing streak tonight in the road opener at Arlington Stadium against the Texas Rangers.

It is a good spot for Johnson, who works with a veteran's confidence that seems to spill over to his teammates and is facing a Rangers team the Orioles have owned.

Baltimore's 132-84 record against the Rangers since they moved from Washington after the 1971 season is the Orioles' best against any club. The Orioles are 70-39 lifetime (.642) at Arlington Stadium.

But Johnson will have to beware of the slow starts that hurt him during the exhibition season, a spillover from 1990, when he tied for the most first-inning home runs allowed in the majors (seven).

"I've been trying to nail down some things in spring training, and a lot of times you just kind of totally relax," he said. "You try to let your stuff do the work. In those first innings, things just wouldn't happen.

"I had to kick myself in the butt a couple times. I felt real strong in spring training, maybe too strong. With a sinkerball, it's better not to be strong. Throwing 83 [mph] instead of 84 makes a difference in the way the ball acts."

Lifetime, Johnson is 2-2 against the Rangers with a 4.74 ERA, and he has allowed four home runs in 24 2/3 innings. That is right on his average of 1990, when he surrendered a homer every six innings, the worst rate in the majors.

If he can avoid the first-inning jolt, Johnson still must hope the Orioles can break out of an early batting slump (one run, seven hits in 18 innings).

He advises those who have been flooding the radio talk shows and local conversations with panicky ideas to cool down.

"They thought the season was over after the opener," he said. "My gosh, it was one game. If a football team loses one, it can lose a season. Baseball's not that way.

"But a lot of that came from the expectations. We're still in good shape in our division."

This spring, Johnson was 0-3 with a 5.46 ERA, permitted 36 hits pTC in 28 innings (including four homers) and was charged with 18 runs.

"I was ineffective, inconsistent, but spring training was just that, training," he said. "Friday night is Opening Day for me, time to get things together."

NOTES: The Orioles' squad for the Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball Series at the stadium April 21 will include manager Earl Weaver, Paul Blair, Mike Cuellar, Al Bumbry, Doug DeCinces, Davey Johnson, Milt Pappas, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and coach Hal "Skinny" Brown, who will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame later this summer. They will play a squad of "Oriole Beaters" from a three-decade period. . . . The team departed late last night for Texas and was scheduled to arrive in Dallas at 1:20 a.m. . . . Joe Orsulak was the Orioles' top hitter against Texas last year, with a .429 average. He scored 11 runs and drove in 13 in 12 games. . . . Closer Gregg Olson never has allowed an earned run to the Rangers. . . . The Orioles outscored Texas, 74-45, last year and compiled a 3.67 ERA compared with Texas' 5.26.

Dave Johnson's spring-training statistics


0 3 5.46 6 5 0 0 28.0 36 17 6 12 4

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