New staff rough pitch for Johnson to handle

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Losing only complicates adjustment

Miller shuffles lineup

Ripken returns

Notebook

April 18, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- The education of Charles Johnson continues. A four-time Gold Glove catcher in the National League, Johnson is still trying to adjust to a new pitching staff and a new league's hitters.

The situation became obvious in Friday's 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays when Johnson and starter Sidney Ponson frequently crossed signals and sparred over pitch selection. The result was a passed ball for Johnson, an uneven rhythm for Ponson and another early raid on the bullpen.

"I think we'll get together and talk about it at some point," said Ponson. "We're still getting comfortable with one another. It's been a struggle for me and I'm sure that doesn't make it easy for Charles, either."

Manager Ray Miller confirmed that Johnson has experienced a rough beginning, partially due to his own acute sense of responsibility for a wobbling staff. Johnson was given off yesterday, sitting on a .250 average but still waiting for his first RBI after 24 at-bats.

"If a pitcher does poorly it kills him," said Miller. "I think sometimes he's taken that to the plate, then he looks up and he's down 0-2 in the count. That's happened a couple times, I think."

Johnson never suggested six weeks of spring training would familiarize him with every pitcher's nuance and every opposing hitter's strength. However, circumstances such as Friday, when Ponson couldn't read his signals because of shadows around home plate, have only complicated the break-in period.

"Everybody here has their own tendencies and what they're most comfortable with," Johnson said. "There are still things to learn. Hopefully, as we go along everybody will come together. It's never the same in spring training as it is during the season. I didn't expect it to be."

Amaral for Anderson

Miller held to his promise yesterday to rest several regulars, including center fielder Brady Anderson, riding a six-game hitting streak during which he is 10-for-23.

Anderson, who homered to lead off Friday's loss, has punished right-handed pitching for a .406 average while hitting .200 (2-for-10) against left-handers. Anderson is only 1-for-13 (.077) lifetime against Blue Jays starter David Wells.

Miller inserted right-handed hitter Rich Amaral into center field and the leadoff spot, where he was hitless in three at-bats with a walk. Amaral's previous exposure had been limited to four pinch at-bats.

Restricted to 10 at-bats through 10 games, Jeff Conine also made his initial start at first base, going 0-for-3 after contributing pinch-hit RBIs the previous two games. Miller penciled Will Clark into the lineup as designated hitter.

Miller chose to bat second baseman Delino DeShields ninth rather than bump him to leadoff in his newfangled arrangement. DeShields, who got his second hit as an Oriole to raise his average to .105, represents the team's biggest base-stealing threat. Miller said he opted for Amaral rather than the left-handed DeShields at leadoff because of the Blue Jays' left-handed pitching bias.

Ripken ends respite

Cal Ripken returned to third base and the No. 7 spot in the batting order after watching Friday. Ripken owns three home runs in 39 career at-bats against Wells, but is still trying to reverse a sluggish start both at the plate and defensively.

Ripken entered the day without a multi-hit game and continues to make adjustments within his decidedly closed stance.

Deprived of at-bats at the end of spring training and during his two-game injury-related absence April 7-8, Ripken continues to labor with a .179 average.

He fouled out to first base to end the second inning and struck out on a half-swing to end the fourth. Ripken then broke a 2-for-12 skid in the sixth with a two-out RBI single that pulled the Orioles within 3-1. Representing the tying run in the ninth inning, Ripken popped to second base to end the game.

It was erroneously reported in some of Saturday's editions that Ripken did not take pre-game infield Friday. Ripken did participate, and actually remained on the field longer than starting third baseman Willis Otanez.

Belle regains RBI

Right fielder Albert Belle walked three times and was hit by a pitch yesterday. However, he gained an RBI without having to swing the bat.

In an unusual move, the American League has upheld the Orioles' appeal of an official scorer's call from the April 10 game against Toronto. The reversal stemmed from Belle's first-inning double that scored Clark from first base. The earlier ruling had denied Belle an RBI because the scorer believed Blue Jays catcher Mike Matheny had the ball jarred from his glove to allow the run. Belle protested to the club, which forwarded the complaint to the AL.

The change leaves Belle with a triple and another RBI, Blue Jays pitcher Chris Carpenter with another earned run, and Camden Yards scoring with another black eye.

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