Johnson told: Get tough on pitchers

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Veteran staff's shaking off of catcher concerns Miller

May 17, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Running low on ideas about how to improve his underachieving pitching staff, manager Ray Miller met yesterday with catcher Charles Johnson and suggested that the four-time Gold Glove winner assume a more forceful role with the team's veteran pitchers.

Asked yesterday to appear in a 12th straight game because of an ankle injury to backup Lenny Webster, Johnson has experienced a tough transition to the American League and his third set of pitchers within the past year. Entrusted by Miller to call his own game, Johnson has freely yielded to pitchers whenever shaken off. Miller suggested that he be less compliant.

"I told Charles, `There's nothing wrong with you taking charge once in awhile and going out to say this is what we're going to do because your way ain't working.' I see him get down and taking it personally.

"You put down one [for fastball] and the guy throws it high, you put down two [for off-speed] and he bounces it we didn't get Charles Johnson to be a hockey goalie."

Infuriated by his pitchers working "backward," Miller has urged Johnson to insist upon more aggressive pitches in advantageous counts. "Don't throw something on a 2-2 count you wouldn't throw on a 3-2 count," Miller said.

Saturday Jesse Orosco surrendered a double to Rafael Palmeiro on a misplaced fastball. Advance reports said that Palmeiro was on a torrid hot streak against fastballs. Johnson had called for a breaking pitch but was shaken off.

"Pitchers have the right to shake, which is the reason Charles and Lenny come in here shaking their heads," Miller said.

Miller also tried to boost Johnson's morale. According to the manager, Johnson identifies so strongly with his pitchers that he has taken their recent struggles personally. Miller says Johnson's concern also affects his hitting, which had cooled until he broke out with home runs in the eighth and ninth innings yesterday.

Slowly, Johnson says he is beginning to gain a better feel for the staff. However, he is still learning hitters he has never seen before.

"I've been going more on what I hear than on what I know and what I see," said Johnson, long considered the National League's top defensive catcher before coming to the Orioles in a three-way trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. "I'm still learning the hitters over here. It's the pitcher's game. He has to feel comfortable about what he's throwing."

As for Miller, his frustrations are far beyond Johnson's relationship with his pitchers. He has lobbied for sweeping changes but has so far been accommodated with the release of Heathcliff Slocumb and the recent option of Doug Linton to Triple-A Rochester. A decision is likely this week on what to do about Scott Kamieniecki, who has apparently fallen out of the rotation after two traumatic starts. Miller would like to see Jason Johnson promoted from Rochester and has even discussed the possibility of a debut for Single-A left-handed prospect Matt Riley. Opposition has been particularly stiff regarding Riley's promotion.

"Several guys coming in aren't throwing very sharp stuff," Miller said. "Maybe that's why we're behind in the count so much."

Timetable for `Thrill'

Miller estimates first baseman Will Clark is roughly 10 days away from leaving the disabled list. For Miller, it can't happen soon enough. For Clark, the matter is off-limits for discussion.

Clark declined to provide insight into the status of his left thumb, which was fractured by a line drive April 18. Clark no longer wears a splint on the finger and was able to participate in pre-game fielding this weekend. Increasingly concerned about cleanup hitter Albert Belle's inability to get pitches to hit, Miller covets another left-handed bat to face right-handed pitching.

"Not just because it's Will Clark but because it's another quality hitter in the mix," Miller said.

Hernandez hearing is today

Xavier Hernandez's grievance against the Orioles will be heard by an arbiter beginning today in Baltimore.

The relief pitcher alleges the club is bound to a $2.7 million offer it extended to him in December before a physical revealed a slight tear in his right rotator cuff.

He later signed with Houston for $250,000, was released, and Friday was signed to a minor-league contract by the Mets.

Around the horn

Rangers prospect Ryan Glynn enjoyed an eventful Sunday. When Esteban Loaiza reported yesterday, he disclosed that he had slammed his pitching hand in a car door. Glynn was summoned from Oklahoma and arrived in time to pitch the ninth inning for his major-league debut. Glynn allowed three runs but rang up Cal Ripken for his first major-league strikeout. Palmeiro brought the ball to the visitors clubhouse for Ripken to sign. Baines' home run tied him with Jose Canseco for most against the Rangers. He has 33 vs. Texas, fewer than only Reggie Jackson (45) and George Brett (34). Baines' three RBIs also gives him 1,509, tying Mickey Mantle for 36th all time.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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