Johnson's 2 homers show power of positive thinking

Sidelight

He keeps focus, continues breakout from early slump

May 09, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Though Lenny Webster was available to catch yesterday after being hit on the throwing hand Thursday afternoon, Orioles manager Ray Miller decided to give Charles Johnson another start, undeterred by the nine innings he played the previous night.

Miller had checked with trainer Richie Bancells, who confirmed Webster's status. But how do you rest a player in the middle of an offensive awakening?

You don't.

Once mired in an 0-for-16 slump during a lost April, Johnson homered twice yesterday in the Orioles' rain-soaked 7-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Including his three hits Friday night, Johnson is 10-for-20 in his last six games, and has five RBIs in this series.

Johnson is so hot, even his outs leave a trail of smoke. After connecting off Tigers starter Willie Blair in the third and fifth innings, he led off the seventh against reliever Masao Kida by ripping a line drive toward shortstop Deivi Cruz, who made a leaping catch.

"He's staying on the ball," Miller said. "I don't think he's trying to do too much with it. He's just staying on the ball and letting the bat take care of it."

"Through it all, I've just been trying to stay positive," said Johnson, who batted .176 (9-for-51) in April. "I hit a few balls hard right at people, but the whole thing was just trying to be consistent at the plate. As long as I'm able to be consistent, then I give myself a better chance. If you keep hitting the ball hard, they'll start falling in."

Or soaring over the fence. Johnson also homered Friday night, and yesterday's output gave him four this season.

"They usually come in bunches," he said. "I'll hit a lot of them, then I slow up a little bit. Every year is a new year, though. You never know."

Acquired from the New York Mets on Dec. 1 in a three-team trade, Johnson didn't get his first RBI until homering on April 27. That blast also was his first hit in 11 days.

Through it all, hitting coach Terry Crowley kept ignoring the numbers, just as he did in spring training. Maybe the results weren't there, but Crowley could tell by the way Johnson was making contact that they weren't far off. The player wasn't the only one being patient.

"By watching him every day, you know how many times he lined out, how many hot ground balls there were, how many foul balls with a good swing. Those things add up to a positive," Crowley said.

"He started out the season just a little long with his swing, and I'm only talking about a couple days. And then as we went along he started hitting the ball better. He hit a lot of balls good that they caught. I felt all the hard work he's doing, all the extra drills, were starting to pay off. It's just starting to show in the box scores.

"That's not to say all his swings are perfect. He still reverts to a long swing sometimes, but at least when that at-bat is over and he sits next to me, he knows he made a little mistake and will try to adjust it the next time up. I believe he feels he's a better hitter now than when he joined us. I know he is."

Miller faces another tough call today with Scott Erickson seeking his first victory. Webster usually was paired with Erickson until sharing those duties with Johnson this season.

"I probably want to catch Lenny because it is Erickson," Miller said before the game, "but if Charles gets four hits today, I don't know."

Johnson didn't get four hits, but he gave Miller lots more to consider.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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