J. Johnson's change of pace speeds up problems vs. Marlins

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Slow approach fails

Conine throws away first chance

March 05, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- For one inning, Jason Johnson slowed to a crawl. That's when the Florida Marlins got busy.

Becoming too deliberate, Johnson gave up two runs in the second inning of the Orioles' 10-8 exhibition loss to the Marlins at Space Coast Stadium. He allowed two hits, including an RBI double by Mike Lowell, and walked two.

Johnson needed 55 pitches to get through three innings. He gave up four hits and didn't record a strikeout. Most important, he recognized the source of his problems. Live and learn.

"I had one bad inning because I was working slow," he said. "I got out of my rhythm and it caused me to become a little timid out there. I was walking around the mound and all kinds of stuff. But at least I know what I did and I can correct it.

"I felt strong. I felt like I was getting my pitches over the plate. I don't know why I slowed down and took so much time between pitches. I put everybody to sleep. It won't happen again, though."

Johnson continued to use a new pitch, a slider he began experimenting with in the bullpen late last season. He only threw it four times last year, over the final two games, but estimated he used it eight or nine times yesterday. He trusted it enough to throw it to Preston Wilson with a runner in scoring position and the count full in the third inning. Wilson popped up for the second out. He then used his circle change to retire Lowell with the count again full.

"[Wilson] was mad. I could hear him yelling as he was running up the line," said Johnson, who taught himself the slider.

"When I was throwing in the bullpen last year, I sort of came around the ball a little more and it broke down real hard. I was like, `Wow, I could turn that into a whole new pitch.' It was working pretty well today."

Burned by hot corner

Jeff Conine started at third base yesterday, with Cal Ripken staying behind in Fort Lauderdale. Conine had one ball hit to him, and he sent it sailing over the head of first baseman Calvin Pickering.

Conine fielded the ball cleanly, but made an errant sidearmed throw for the Orioles' second error of the afternoon.

"I just made a bad throw," Conine said, refusing any excuses. "I was hoping the wind would knock it down."

A first baseman and outfielder by trade, Conine will continue to get lots of work at the hot corner as a possible backup to Ripken.

"I felt good out there. I've just got to get in a lot of games and experience all the different situations to where it becomes second nature to react and not have to think about it," he said.

"It's a challenge, but I think I can play over there. And it's a chance to get in the lineup a little more often."

Conine wished he had more chances yesterday. The more balls hit to him, the more comfortable he figures to become. "That way I can get all my errors out of the way," he said.

Bones bounces back

Add Ricky Bones' name to the list of former Orioles who keep surfacing in camps throughout Florida and Arizona.

Bones signed a minor-league contract with the Marlins in December. He's trying to win a spot either in the rotation or the bullpen, but mostly is seen as insurance in case one of the Marlins' young pitchers, like Jesus Sanchez, isn't ready. Sanchez threw well as a rookie two years ago but ended up back in the minors last season.

At least Bones, who turns 31 in April, is being given a shot. He's scheduled to pitch in relief against the Orioles today in Fort Lauderdale, another step toward what he hopes will be a job with his seventh major-league team.

The Orioles were his sixth, a relationship that began when he signed as a free agent on Dec. 21, 1998. It ended on Aug. 20 when Bones was released after 30 appearances and one stop on the disabled list with a tired arm.

"Things happen for a reason," said Bones, who was 0-3 with a 5.98 ERA in Baltimore. "Deep in my heart, I can say I really had a good experience there. They were great teammates. I have nothing bad to say about the organization.

"I did my part. The team went in a different direction. It was a whole bad year team-wise. They had a great team last year but it didn't work out. No hard feelings. What counts now is I'm here and I'm healthy and I'm looking for one more chance."

Bones didn't pitch after being let go by the Orioles until starting in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he did well enough to participate in the Caribbean World Series.

"I just told myself, `Go home and rest.' There was only about a month left anyway so it was too late. And I didn't want to rush myself," he said.

"Playing winter ball helped out. It gave teams a chance to see I can still pitch. I was 5-2 with an ERA in the low 3s, and I was second in the league in innings."

Bones said he chose the Marlins because he saw the best chance to return to the majors. But he also knows there's a lot of competition, including Reid Cornelius, who's out of options and would have to clear waivers before being shuttled to Triple-A.

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