Johnson catches second straight break

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He feels `pretty good' but gets another night off

DeShields welcomed back

July 24, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

For only the second time this season, Orioles catcher Charles Johnson was out of the starting lineup for consecutive games, with Mike Figga getting the assignment again last night.

Johnson had started 10 straight games before Thursday, when he got the night off while Figga went 1-for-4 in the Orioles' 5-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

"I'm fine. It's just a couple days off," Johnson said, adding that the decision was made mutually by himself and manager Ray Miller.

"We both agreed on it. [Thursday] was pretty much a scheduled day off, and this is just where we figured to give me an extra day. This is pretty much the middle of the season. The hot days of July and August are pretty much here, so you've got to be a little more particular about pushing it."

Johnson insisted he isn't wearing down from the heat and a workload that became much heavier after Lenny Webster went on the disabled list two months ago. Webster was designated for assignment July 16 and cleared waivers yesterday, making him a free agent. Figga has assumed the backup duties.

"I feel pretty good," said Johnson, who before last night had played in 64 of the past 69 games, including 61 starts. "There just comes a point where you've got to take time off."

The last time Johnson didn't start two straight regularly scheduled games was May 2 and May 4, although he did play in the Cuban exhibition between those games.

Miller spoke with hitting coach Terry Crowley while on the flight to Baltimore last night about giving Johnson another breather, also taking into consideration a 4: 05 p.m. starting time today.

"I said we're getting in late and we had given him [Thursday] off because he was dragging a little bit. Let's see if two days makes him that much better," Miller said.

"Figga did a tremendous job. I read about him making three outs in an inning, but he blocked the heck out of the ball with men on bases. He really did a great job."

Miller also was looking for a solution to starting pitcher Juan Guzman's first-inning troubles, figuring perhaps the lower target set by Figga might make a difference. Something did, as Guzman didn't allow a run in the first last night against the Anaheim Angels, stranding a runner in scoring position.

The club is hopeful that rest may also return some pop to Johnson's bat. He's hitting .188 (9-for-48) in July, including his current 2-for-21 skid, and hasn't homered since June 25. He hit nine of his 13 homers in May.

"I've always been a streaky home run hitter," he said. "I'm not really worried about home runs as much as keeping my average steady and not letting it decline, getting my hits. The home runs come in bunches for me."

`I need [DeShields'] bat'

Delino DeShields rejoined the Orioles yesterday and settled back into his starting job at second base.

Part of the trade speculation that hangs over the club, DeShields was appearing in his first game since June 19 in Chicago, when he strained his right hamstring while running out a ground ball and went on the disabled list. He went 0-for-3 against the Angels last night.

DeShields went on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment that took him to Single-A Delmarva, Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. He had been expected to return July 16, but the move was delayed because of residual tightness in his hamstring.

He declined to speak to reporters before the game, saying he just wanted to play. It has been a challenge for DeShields to do that, with two stops on the disabled list and only 190 at-bats before last night's game.

"He's probably not at 1,000 percent as far as stealing bases," Miller said, "but he's running normal. I just don't know how explosive he can be. Maybe you hit-and-run a little bit more than steal.

"But I need his bat in the lineup. It makes us much, much better when you've got that lefty down there. The thing I'm hoping is we get him back hitting the way he was.

"If he's healthy, he should be the freshest guy we've got the last two months. When everybody else might be dragging a little bit, he should be a big inspiration for us."

Rookie Jerry Hairston started 23 of the previous 24 games at second base until being optioned to Triple-A Rochester when DeShields was activated.

Hairston batted .277 with six doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and 10 runs scored in only 83 at-bats. He also had seven steals and didn't commit an error during his stay with the team.

"Jerry was great," Miller said. "You don't want to take a kid like that and sit him. He had gone from .210 to .268 at Triple-A and stepped in here.

"That's the first time since I've been here that someone has come out of the minor leagues and filled a gap and done a good job for us.

"He gave us a little shot, a little inspiration. He gave us some legs at the bottom of the order, which DeShields does. And I think Jerry proved to himself as well as everyone else that he's going to be a force here.

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