Johns gets another chance to pitch in Journeyman kept O's in game on fight night

Orioles Sidelight

he'll get shot vs. A's

May 23, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It wasn't fair, really. Left-hander Doug Johns came off the disabled list and made the most of a very difficult situation, but was the hidden victim of the ugly bean brawl that marred Tuesday night's game. His solid performance in place of injured Mike Mussina got lost in the scuffle.

"I think that was my deepest disappointment," said pitching coach Mike Flanagan. "We prepared as best we could. He took his game out there and he made big pitches when he had to. If we win that game for him, it's a big mood setter. It could have been a springboard."

For the team and for Johns, who has knocked around the minor and major leagues, trying to establish himself as a dependable starting pitcher. He certainly looked like one Tuesday night, stepping into a pressure-packed situation and holding the first-place New York Yankees to a run on eight hits over five innings, only to see his first Orioles victory go up in the smoke that has been emanating from the Orioles' bullpen.

The 31-year-old journeyman left-hander likely will get another chance to help the Orioles pull out of their current tailspin tomorrow in the series finale against the Oakland A's at the Oakland Coliseum. It will be a homecoming of sorts, since he spent most of his professional career in the A's organization, but there is too much at stake for minor sentiment.

"I'd like to do well, but I'd like to do well every time I go out," said Johns, who will be making his third start as an Oriole and first start as a visiting player at the Oakland Coliseum. "I've got a lot of friends over there, but not when they're playing us."

Johns appeared intermittently at the major-league level with the A's in 1995, making nine of his 11 appearances as a starter and winning five of eight decisions. He stayed up for the entire 1996 season and made 23 starts and 17 relief appearances, but his 6-12 record did not warrant a contract for '97. He started the 1997 season pitching in Italy, then spent part of the season in the Kansas City Royals' system before being released and signing a Triple-A contract with the Orioles.

He pitched well enough at Rochester to rate a long look in spring training and was the first pitcher called up when injuries depleted the Orioles' rotation. His first start -- against the Anaheim Angels in April -- didn't go particularly well, but he returned from a troubling bout with insomnia to show that he can be a resourceful finesse pitcher when he is in command of all his pitches.

No doubt, he knew the gravity of the team's situation when he took the mound Tuesday night, but was able to hold the best team in baseball in check longer than anyone could have expected.

"I just tried to pump him up [before the game]," Flanagan said. " 'What a challenge this is. What an opportunity.' I told him to think of it like that instead of David and Goliath."

Though Johns is in the rotation as an emergency starter, Flanagan sees this as an opportunity for him to establish himself. "I see him as a Jamie Moyer type," he said. "I think he could make that transition to be like Moyer. He has a Moyer-type changeup that people can look for and not hit it. He just needs to throw more strikes with it."

Johns is a soft-spoken, just-happy-to-be-here kind of guy, so he doesn't know what to make of that comparison. Moyer was once very much like him, but established himself as a full-time starter and won 17 games for the Seattle Mariners last season.

"I'm just going to keep working hard and trying to make adjustments," Johns said. "I watch other pitchers to learn from what they do. It's a constant adjustment."

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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