Miller assures Johnson hook not `personal'

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Young pitcher is asked to base plan on his stuff

Minor's back hurting, too

August 16, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson met briefly with manager Ray Miller yesterday to clear the air regarding his abbreviated start Saturday.

Johnson had questioned Miller's decision to pull him after two innings with the Cleveland Indians leading 5-1. The right-hander had thrown 62 pitches, including one that Jim Thome turned into a first-inning grand slam. Johnson struck out the last two batters in the second, then was informed by pitching coach Bruce Kison that he was finished.

Johnson said he had just gotten into a groove and probably could have gone another four innings. Miller, noting that his young pitcher couldn't keep the ball down, wasn't going to let him absorb more punishment.

Miller had let Johnson stay around for four innings in his previous start in Tampa Bay while trying to spare the bullpen. Johnson was raked for nine runs and 12 hits.

"I think what bothered him this time was he struck out the last two guys and it was the first time he felt any kind of rhythm," Miller said. "But my problem is, he's already given up five and he's got to face [David] Justice and Thome, and if either one of them get on, I have to go get him because I don't want him to give up any more. I don't like a young kid giving up six, seven, eight, nine runs."

Miller said he stressed to Johnson, who had indicated a concern that the manager might be losing confidence in him, that the decision was "nothing personal."

"I told him, `I think you can be a 20-game winner in the future. I really do,' " Miller said.

"I told him, `I think you're well-prepared but sometimes you get so locked into your game plan that you don't wait to see what you have.' This kid has so much in his mind about, `I want to get in on this guy and I want to throw this guy breaking balls away and throw changeups to this guy.' Then he goes out and doesn't have a breaking ball and he still continues to try to do it.

"I said, `It's great that you have an idea what you're doing, but you have to evaluate what you have on a given day and base your game around that. That's all part of pitching.'

"Whoever sits in here has to make a choice for the team. And I don't think anybody out there can say I've had too much of a quick hook this year. Sixty-two pitches and five runs in two innings isn't a quick hook."

Minor, Clark ailing

Miller had to make a late lineup change last night, replacing Ryan Minor at third base with Jeff Reboulet.

Minor is bothered by lower-back stiffness that surfaced during Saturday's game. He did some throwing before batting practice while Miller watched from the dugout. With his movements appearing a little restricted, Minor was given the night off.

Minor had started the past 10 games with Cal Ripken on the disabled list with a nerve irritation in his back. Reboulet made his 14th start at third base this season.

Reboulet went 0-for-2 with a walk to extend his slide to 2-for-34 over his last 25 games. He has one RBI since June 16.

Miller also held out Will Clark again to rest a hyper-extended left elbow. "It's still a little tender," Miller said, adding that he expected Clark to return for the homestand.

"He probably could play, but it's aggravating, and he's not really swinging the bat all that great right now and I want to make sure he's healthy," Miller said. "I don't want him to get into any bad habits. He has gotten a few hits, but he's been dragging a little bit, so I'm sure [trainer] Richie Bancells will have him see a doctor [today]."

Checking out farm crop

General manager Frank Wren met with Miller to discuss the possibility of going with 11 pitchers and adding another position player. Wren flew into Cleveland yesterday after watching Doug Linton pitch at Triple-A Rochester.

Miller said he'd prefer having another left-handed hitter on the bench and has inquired about Rochester's Howie Clark, 25, who entered yesterday batting .332 with 18 doubles, three triples, five homers and 24 RBIs in 57 games at Rochester. Clark, who hit .294 at Double-A Bowie this season before moving up, had played parts of 51 games in the outfield, six at second base, two at first and one at third.

"Every time I pick up a phone he's hit a home run or double or something," Miller said.

Rochester first baseman Calvin Pickering, who is hitting .278 with 16 doubles, 15 homers and 55 RBIs in 82 games, also would fill the need for a left-handed bat. But he has battled nagging injuries and inconsistency all season and also is more limited defensively than Clark.

Linton remains a contender for the fifth starter's job, which would open up on Friday. He allowed just one run in seven innings Saturday.

"He's certainly a viable option, but I'm not going to say he's the guy," Miller said.

"That's Frank's call. I asked him for the best he's got."

DeShields in a groove

Each time Miller comments on how much more comfortable Delino DeShields looks at the plate and in the field after two stops on the disabled list, he taps his knuckles on his wooden desk. Anything to ward off another setback.

DeShields got one of the Orioles' five hits last night and is hitting .291 (16-for-55) with two triples, a homer and eight runs scored over his last 14 games.

"I'm almost afraid to say he's coming on strong because I've said it four times and all four times something's happened," Miller said.

"My read on Delino is it looks like he's a guy who's got to play every day to get into a rhythm. The last week or so he's been swinging the bat well. Even in BP the ball is jumping off his bat. Each time he's come back it's taken a week or two to get to that point."

Around the horn

Cleveland center fielder Kenny Lofton, who came off the disabled list on Friday, wasn't in the lineup last night after fouling a ball off his right foot during Saturday's game. He's listed as day-to-day. The Indians were successful on three of four steal attempts.

Pub Date: 8/16/99

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