Johns gets relief in bout with insomnia Medication, psychologist help to fight disorder


May 15, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Sleep is coming a little easier now for Orioles reliever Doug Johns. He no longer stares at the clock next to his bed, counting the hours lost rather than his blessings for getting another chance to pitch in the major leagues.

In the same week that ace Mike Mussina returned to the mound after being troubled by a wart, Johns went on the disabled list May 8 with insomnia. He was losing a battle fought quietly and alone for more than a month, and he needed help.

The Orioles are providing it through their employee assistance program, and Johns is encouraged by the results. Under medication and the close supervision of a psychologist, he has returned to Camden Yards for the current homestand, his left shoulder and elbow wrapped in ice after throwing and looking relaxed from another night without tossing and turning.

"I feel better," said Johns, 31. "It's still not all the way back to perfect, but it's better."

His condition began near the end of spring training with the nightly interruptions. Johns would wake up for no reason, then struggle to fall back asleep, if he did at all. And it worsened to where he would go entire nights without drifting off.

"It had gotten to the point where my energy level, mental and physical, was so low from the lack of sleep, and I just thought it wasn't fair to the team to go out there and not be at my best," he said.

"You look at the clock and it would be 3 a.m. and you say, 'Well, I can still get five hours sleep.' Then you look at the clock and it's 5 a.m. and you say, 'Well, I can get three hours sleep.' Then, before you know it, you haven't slept at all."

Just as disturbing to Johns was not understanding why.

"This had never happened to me," he said. "I'm told that usually it's related to a traumatic experience in your life, but I didn't have anything like that."

His trauma had come the year before, when he was released twice and ended up pitching in Italy before signing a Triple-A contract with the Orioles. He won two games in the International League playoffs, then made a strong enough impression this spring that he was summoned from Rochester on April 20 and started the next night. He also has made five relief appearances, going 0-1 with a 6.17 ERA.

The loss came in his final outing May 2 at Camden Yards, when he surrendered an 11th-inning home run to the Minnesota Twins' Ron Coomer. Two days later, before the club left for Cleveland, Johns phoned Ray Miller and told him of a sleeping disorder that the manager didn't know existed.

"I felt bad because he had been hiding it," Miller said. "He told me he was having trouble focusing and sleeping. He didn't really tell me what it was. He just said he was having personal problems and was seeing a doctor. The only thing I was upset about was ESPN made light of it. This is a kid's major-league career. He went through a lot to get back here. But it's a treatable thing and something he's got to get worked out."

Johns still can't make it through a night without waking up, usually three or four times. "But since I started the medication, I'm able to get back to sleep in between, so it's not that bad. I've been getting four or five hours of sleep," he said.

Johns has been under the care of Dr. James McGee, who advised Miller to allow the University of Virginia graduate to do some throwing on the side. Wednesday's session was the first for Johns since he went on the DL.

"They said to go ahead and use him, but they wouldn't release him to be activated yet," Miller said. "They gave me the OK for him to throw on an every-day basis. Apparently, it's coming FTC along well. Things are getting better."

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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