J. Johnson's best isn't enough in loss to Yanks

Sidelight

Career-high 7 innings still draws Miller raves

June 27, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The matchup looked like a mismatch, and it began that way yesterday for Orioles right-hander Jason Johnson.

Knowing he had little margin for error with New York's David Cone providing the opposition, Johnson turned a sweltering first inning into slow-drip torture. He loaded the bases. He threw 27 pitches. He did everything wrong except give up a run.

Those would come later, but at least Johnson kept his team in the game until the bullpen blew it apart in a 7-4 loss to the Yankees before 47,841 at Camden Yards.

Recovering nicely after the first by correcting a flaw in his mechanics, Johnson turned in a career-high seven innings and left with a 3-0 deficit. He retired 10 in a row before Shane Spencer pulled a 1-1 fastball just inside the left-field foul pole leading off the fifth inning. Doubles by Scott Brosius and Chuck Knoblauch increased the lead to 2-0.

A one-out homer by Tino Martinez in the sixth completed the damage against Johnson, who was making his sixth start for the Orioles this season, and his 19th in the majors. He was tagged with the loss, but he didn't suffer an early knockout. Facing one of baseball's most imposing lineups on national television, it rated as a victory of sorts.

"On the upside, we got a great effort out of a good-looking young pitcher. It was an outstanding performance against a very good club," said manager Ray Miller.

"It looks like 106 [mph] to me but it says 92 on the board. He's a big, tall guy with an easy motion. He can get good fastball hitters on good fastball counts. The ball gets on them and you see a lot of pop-ups to center field, guys getting under the ball because they're fighting it off."

Johnson, 25, came to the Orioles in a March 29 trade with Tampa Bay for outfielder Danny Clyburn. He was recalled from Triple-A Rochester on May 20 when Scott Kamieniecki agreed to a 19-day option, but didn't pick up his first win until going 5 2/3 innings last Sunday in Chicago. He pitched better yesterday, but didn't receive the same run support.

"The last time out, he got ahead of everybody but had trouble finishing them," Miller said. "Today he came out and did a great job moving the ball in and out and changing speeds."

"It's getting better and better every time I go out there," said Johnson, whose biggest stride yesterday was the ability to use his off-speed stuff when behind in the count. "I feel more comfortable each time. It's getting there."

Getting the ball past Spencer proved too difficult, but not because Johnson left it in a bad spot. The pitch was on Spencer's fists, and he muscled it 340 feet.

"My four-seam [pitch] was cutting. I tried to throw it in and it cut a little bit back over the plate and he put a charge into it," Johnson said. "I was trying to blow it foul, but it didn't work."

Mike Figga, who caught Johnson for the third time yesterday, was surprised by the result. "Knowing Spence, I thought he'd yank it into their dugout like he usually does but somehow he stayed through it. You tip your hat to Tino. He got a pitch in the middle and drove it. That was the only bad pitch Jason made."

Johnson was dropping his arm in the first inning, and the Yankees were threatening to lower the boom. They got two singles and a walk, but Chili Davis grounded to second to leave the bases filled. Only five Yankees reached after that, as Johnson stuck around for 110 pitches.

"I thought he was impressive," said Cone. "He had three or four different pitches; a couple of different fastballs. It looks like he has the total package."

Johnson admitted being nervous facing the defending world champions and a former Cy Young Award winner. It didn't show.

"You have to be a pro. You have to go out there and you have to do your job. That's what I wanted to do and let the rest of it take place," he said.

"It's good to know I'm getting through the seventh inning now. I hope I can keep it up. Scratch that `hope.' I'm going to keep it up."

Pub Date: 6/27/99

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