It was a bad day for Baltimore area pitchers on the Orioles' major-league roster.
Righthander Dave Johnson and lefthander Mike Linskey were dropped in moves designed to keep space open for possible maneuvers during the winter meetings, which open in two weeks. At the same time, the Orioles added catcher Cesar Devares, putting the roster at 38, two below the limit.
Yesterday was the last day for major-league clubs to add minor leaguers who otherwise will be available in the Rule V draft.
The biggest move involved Johnson, the unheralded Middle River native who made a late splash in 1989 and was the Orioles' top winner with a 13-9 record a year later. His 4-8 record this past season, with an inflated 7.07 earned run average, led to his being placed on waivers for the purpose of being granted his unconditional release.
"Sometimes," general manager Roland Hemond said, "the year a player had leads to some decisions. We have to make room [on the 40-man roster] if we're going to make moves. We need some spots in case we take a player in the Rule V draft, sign a free agent or possibly make a multi-player trade."
Though the Orioles' decision was not totally unexpected, it came as an obvious disappointment for Johnson. "I've been around long enough to know it's not the end of the world," he said. "I've been released before, and I think things will work out for the best.
"I'm just disappointed it came to this. I was hoping to get the opportunity to redeem myself next year. What success I've had in the big leagues has been here, and this is a club that needs pitching.
"I was hoping to be part of the success story next year. I was really looking forward to being here when the new park opens, but that can't happen now -- unless I end up with Cleveland [the Orioles' opening day opponent April 6]."
It is possible that Johnson could still end up in spring training camp with the Orioles, but baseball rules would prohibit him being placed on the major-league roster before May 15.
"I told him that if things didn't work out to his satisfaction to feel free to call me and we could invite him to camp," said Hemond. "But, if you think it's a possibility down the road, it's better to do these things now rather than wait. It gives the player more time to explore his options."
Linskey's situation is similar, yet different from Johnson's. The Orioles had hoped to outright him to their Triple A Rochester roster, but had to put him on waivers to do so.
The San Diego Padres, with whom former Orioles scouting director John Barr is now employed, claimed Linskey, who benefits because he remains on a major-league roster. After earning a promotion on the strength of a 14-10 year in 1990 (7-1, 1.47 at Double A Hagerstown, 7-9, 3.58 at Rochester), Linskey struggled throughout last season. He was 1-5 (7.24) at Rochester before finishing the year at Hagerstown (6-5, 4.46).
The final addition to the Orioles' roster before the winter meetings is Devares, a 22-year-old catcher. In his third professional season, Devares hit .251 with three home runs and 29 runs batted in for Single A Frederick last year. He is one of several highly rated defensive catchers in the Orioles' system, having thrown out 47 percent of baserunners attempting to steal last year.
As for Johnson, he will continue to work for the Orioles' Community Relations Department in the offseason. "He's done an outstanding job for us in that department," said Hemond. "He enjoys it and is very enthusiastic about it."
For the last two years Johnson has been in demand for personal appearances, but he admits it will be difficult now. "I guess there will be some uneasy moments the first few times," he said. "I won't be able to say 'we' anymore, because I'm not a part of the team.
"But whether I'm a player or not, I feel a togetherness with the people in that department and will be a representative for the club."