Pardon Dave Johnson if he seems to be getting itchy. Pardon him if he wonders if he fits into the Orioles' plans.
All Johnson knows for sure is that he'll pitch for Triple A Rochester against Columbus tonight in the fifth start of his rehabilitation assignment. And then? The Orioles aren't saying.
"He has a right to be itchy," manager John Oates said after the Orioles' 6-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners yesterday at Memorial Stadium, their fifth defeat in the last six games.
"He's healthy. When a need arises, we'll improve the club by adding him."
A statement like that doesn't completely satisfy Johnson. He sees a pitching staff without a standout, and wonders why his team-high 13 victories last year don't warrant an immediate return to the rotation. The groin injury that plagued him has healed.
"I just look at it that as every day that goes by, it's less of an opportunity here," Johnson said. "The way I look at it, I don't have a job.
"When I look back at what I did last year, I thought I had a job. I didn't win the Cy Young or anything, but I went out and proved I can pitch."
Although he was born in Baltimore and graduated from Overlea High, there are limits to his allegiance to this town. If the Orioles aren't going to use him, it would not break his heart if he were traded.
"I want to be in the big leagues; I don't care who it's with," said Johnson, 31. "I'm not crying, but just give me an idea, give me reasons."
At this point, Oates doesn't have an answer for Johnson. Jeff Ballard and Jeff Robinson, who absorbed the defeats Saturday and yesterday, have been less than dazzling, but Oates gives no signal a change is in the offing.
"We may go from 10 to 11 pitchers sometime, but we're not going to make a change for the sake of change," Oates said. "When we do, it'll be because we think it will be an improvement."
In his first three starts, at Double A Hagerstown, Johnson was 3-0 and gave up two earned runs in 18 innings. He lost his only start with Rochester, yielding three runs in six innings.
"I'd like to see him start; that's where his strength is, more than out of the bullpen," Oates said. "I know what he's saying. He won 13 last year, yet it's also true he led the majors in home runs  and the American League in doubles .
"He's a bulldog and he gives us innings. I know our starters aren't setting the world on fire, but they are giving us enough consistency so as not to make a change for the sake of change."
Robinson lost his third straight start yesterday after squandering a 4-1 lead. After serving up a game-tying home run to Ken Griffey Jr. in the fifth inning, Robinson gave up a single to the next batter, Pete O'Brien.
Mike Flanagan came on and was nicked for a two-run homer by Alvin Davis. That put the Mariners ahead by two, and so it remained.
When Robinson neared the dugout after being lifted, to a mixture of applause and boos, he shouted something to the fans. Words that could be put in a family newspaper? Sure.
"I said, 'I blew it!' " Robinson said. "Which I did. I did blow it. People come expecting to see positive things, and I didn't deliver. The few cheers, well, I didn't deserve them."
Robinson insisted the heat -- the temperature on the field reached 115 at 4:30 -- wasn't a factor. Rather, it was poor mechanics that caused him to fall behind on the counts and serve pitches high in the strike zone.
"He didn't have his control from the first inning on," Oates said. "He struggled. He told me when he came here this year, 'Look, I pitch into trouble a lot and then pitch out of it.' He has pitched himself out of trouble -- some."
Robinson had hardly found a seat on the bench when rightfielder Chito Martinez almost prevented further trouble. He reached over the fence for Davis' drive and actually had the ball in his glove.
"It fell out," Martinez said, "when my arm hit the fence."
What the Orioles need now, Oates feels, is a day off. They got one today. No workouts, no meetings.
Nothing, in fact, until they entertain the California Angels in the opener of a three-game series tomorrow night.