3 runs is plus for J. Johnson

Orioles notebook

Rocked pitcher at least spreads out runs this time

outfield a hit with DeShields

March 18, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- How badly has this spring gone for Orioles starter Jason Johnson? He allowed three runs yesterday and still shaved a point off his ERA.

Johnson avoided the big inning that has repeatedly bitten him, but was nicked up by three smaller ones. He gave up single runs to the Texas Rangers in the first three innings before retiring the side in the fourth.

Five of the first eight batters reached against him, and he already had faced 12 through two innings, constantly falling behind hitters and pitching tentatively. Though the Rangers scored again in the third on a leadoff double by Rafael Palmeiro and a one-out single by Tom Evans, Johnson got a much-needed double play when he struck out Scott Sheldon and Charles Johnson threw out Evans trying to steal.

"I know what I've been doing. I've been way too timid out there," said Johnson, the projected third starter in April who is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA. "The first two innings it was like C.J. would call for a fastball and I'd be like, `OK, don't hit it, please,' instead of, `Here it is. Try to hit it.' The last two innings were a big improvement."

The numbers so far have been gruesome, and they don't lie. Before yesterday, Johnson had given up 10 runs and 15 hits in nine innings. He walked seven, struck out four, and opponents were raking him at a .366 clip.

"I was working on a lot of stuff my first three appearances, throwing off-speed pitches behind in the count," Johnson said. "Now is the time to stop messing around and start getting ready for the season."

Cleanup isn't his position

Put a bat in Jerry Hairston's hands, and his spring blooms. Put him on the base paths or in the dugout, and it begins to wilt.

Hairston experienced two mishaps while in Port St. Lucie on Thursday. Looking for a place to sit during the game, he got a splinter in his right hand while brushing debris off the wooden dugout steps. It was sharp enough to open a cut, causing his hand to be wrapped while he passed through the clubhouse yesterday.

"I even asked myself, `Why am I doing this? Why don't I get a towel?' And on the next swipe, it happened," he said.

Hairston entered the game at second base for Delino DeShields and went 1-for-2 in the Orioles' 9-3 victory Thursday. The hit was his eighth in 17 at-bats, a limited number of plate appearances because of a pulled groin muscle that he aggravated during the game.

Hairston tweaked it while making a sudden stop on the base paths. He already had missed a week because of the injury, which also occurred against the Mets while running out a double, and initially feared he had suffered another setback.

"If it's not one thing, it's another," he said.

Neither one was enough to keep him out of the lineup yesterday, or from producing. Leading off, he went 2-for-4 with his second home run. He also didn't appear to be slowed by the groin pull while hustling to first on a liner that second baseman Edwin Diaz dropped before recovering to get the out. Hairston dived across the bag on a close play.

Hairston, who has an uphill climb in trying to unseat the more experienced -- and more expensive -- DeShields for the starting job at second, tried to use the splinter to his advantage. It was below the pinkie finger, where the bat handle shouldn't be making contract anyway. He'd rather not rest it in his palm, and this is a convenient way to make sure it stays farther up the hand.

"It actually helps me," he said. "It sort of reminds me to keep the bat where it's supposed to be."

DeShields experiment grows

The Orioles' latest spring experiment was kicked up a notch when DeShields started in center field.

DeShields hadn't played the position since high school until being moved there from second base in the sixth inning of Thursday's game. Manager Mike Hargrove wants to see if DeShields can become an option in center if the club is hit with injuries or forced into extra innings.

So far, it's going better than the Jeff Conine experiment, which never got off the ground. Conine played one game at third base, committing a throwing error on his only chance, before being sidelined with tendinitis in his right rotator cuff and a severe case of the flu. He played for the first time in more than a week yesterday.

DeShields, meanwhile, has embraced his move into the third spot in the lineup since B. J. Surhoff came down with a sore elbow. He homered twice yesterday, both times slicing through the wind blowing in from right field. He drove in four runs, giving him eight RBIs this spring to go with three homers.

DeShields didn't have any difficult chances in the field. He also didn't have any mistakes.

"A couple balls that were hit out there, he made good breaks on and good reads on. I was encouraged by that," said Hargrove. "And Mark Clark gave him a couple fastballs that he hit a long, long way."

DeShields still is getting comfortable in center, and adjusting to the view. "Guys look small out there," he said.

Pressure on Reyes grows

Each time Al Reyes is handed the ball, he seems to drift further from the Orioles' bullpen plans. Competing with the likes of Jose Mercedes and Tim Worrell, he lost more ground by surrendering two homers in a six-run seventh inning.

"Al needs to give us something to hang our hats on," Hargrove said, "and it needs to happen pretty soon."

Mercedes, meanwhile, tossed two scoreless innings and hasn't allowed a run in 11.

Worrell is 2-0 and hasn't been scored upon in seven innings.

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