Johnson is O so shocked to be one

Orioles notebook

Comfortable with Tampa, pitcher shines in debut

Miller waiting on Amaral

April 01, 1999|By ROCH KUBATKO | ROCH KUBATKO,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- Jason Johnson said he believed he had a shot at making the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' rotation this season, or so he had been told. At the very least, he was a part of their future.

Three days ago, Johnson was part of a trade that he never saw coming.

Johnson was acquired by the Orioles on Monday for minor-league outfielder Danny Clyburn and a player to be named. The news, he said, came as an "absolute shock."

"I wasn't expecting it at all," he said, standing in the visitors' dugout at Space Coast Stadium. "It feels weird. I was just starting to get used to the guys over in Tampa because everybody was new there, too, last year. I guess it starts over again."

Johnson, a 6-foot-6 right-hander with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, took his physical Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale and joined the club before last night's game against the Florida Marlins.

Following Mike Mussina's strong six-inning stint, Johnson retired all six batters he faced, with five fly balls and one strikeout.

Manager Ray Miller said the club had been discussing a deal for Johnson all spring, with memories still vivid of his overpowering effort at Camden Yards last season. Johnson shut out the Orioles over six innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six.

"I hope there's something about Camden Yards, if I get called up there," he said. "It might be a bright future if there is."

He should be glad to escape Tropicana Field, where he was 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA last season. Johnson made three relief appearances with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997 before becoming the Devil Rays' seventh pick in the expansion draft.

His major-league debut had come on Aug. 27, the same day the Pirates purchased his contract from Double-A Carolina. He allowed a homer to Mike Piazza on his first pitch.

Johnson made 13 starts for Tampa Bay last season, going 2-5 with a 5.70 ERA. He didn't pitch after July 3 because of lower back stiffness, but found time to get married over the All-Star break.

The California native returned to the mound in the Arizona Fall League and was named Pitcher of the Year after tying a league record with seven wins.

"I prefer starting," he said, "but anything in the big leagues is fine with me."

Doug Linton remains the leading contender to replace Scott Kamieniecki if the right-hander can't pitch because of a strained hamstring, but Miller threw Johnson's name in the mix before last night's impressive debut. "I've got another guy to see tonight," he said.

Kamieniecki played long toss with assistant trainer Brian Ebel for about 15 minutes before the game. He's expected to go on the disabled list.

Still waiting on Amaral...

Rich Amaral didn't start last night after playing the first three innings of Tuesday's game against Montreal in Fort Lauderdale.

Amaral got one at-bat Tuesday, bouncing to short in the third, and was removed for Mike Murphy the next inning. It was Amaral's first appearance since March 16 because of a strained lower back, and it didn't bring Miller any closer to knowing if the veteran will be at full strength by Opening Day or need time on the disabled list.

"That's a decision I've got to make. I've got to find out about this," said Miller.

A seeming mop-up role as an eighth-inning pinch runner provided a few clues last night. Thanks to the game going into extra innings, Amaral, who played left field, got two at-bats. He struck out in the latter, but in the 10th inning he singled and was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double -- not standard base-running procedure for someone with a bad back.

If Amaral isn't available to start the season and the club can't swing a deal, Murphy becomes Miller's best option as an outfield reserve. Though batting only .217, Murphy has displayed good speed and arm strength, and the ability to play all three outfield positions -- at times in the same game.

Miller will wait until tomorrow's exhibition game in Atlanta to determine Amaral's status.

... and a lineup

Though Miller is aware his club is slated to face Tampa Bay left-hander Wilson Alvarez on Opening Day, he's still undecided about the lineup. "I'll sit on it through Atlanta," he said, referring to tomorrow's exhibition game.

Part of Miller's hesitancy to commit to anything is the possibility of a trade. "I'll keep my phone on in case it rings. There's always a chance," he said.

"Usually, you talk about one guy for months and months and end up getting someone else, or you stop talking about him and start talking about 60 million people, and you get him."

Asked if he had any doubts remaining that Mike Bordick would bat second, Miller said, "Not at this time."

Bordick, who inherited the No. 2 slot when Delino DeShields fractured his left thumb on March 4, is hitting .370 (20-for-54) with three homers, 10 RBIs and eight walks.

Ponson encouraged

Sidney Ponson had one rough inning among his five in Tuesday's game against Montreal, allowing two runs in the third. Both hits off him also came that inning. Otherwise, it was 12 up, 12 down.

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