Johnson to remain in rotation, Hargrove says

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Manager remains firm: `The kid's a starter'

Orioles Notebook

May 25, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles right-hander Jason Johnson remained available to pitch in relief last night, as he had done on Tuesday when he threw a scoreless eighth inning with his team ahead 2-0. But despite his impressive showing and the apparent need for a calming influence in the bullpen, he's still slated to start on Saturday for the first time since May 13.

Manager Mike Hargrove had Johnson warming again last night in the seventh inning, but he is adamant about Johnson remaining a part of the rotation rather than a possible solution to the club's late-inning woes. The bullpen has blown 13 save chances, the most in the majors, but Hargrove said using Johnson in the ninth with the game on the line would be "a panic move."

"The kid's a starter. That's the first time he's ever pitched out of the bullpen," Hargrove said. "He looked very good. He came in and did his job. He threw the ball hard and threw strikes, but it was totally out of his role. It was something he had never done physically or mentally. I liked what I saw, but he's a starter. He'll start Saturday, and we'll see where it goes from there.

"I think we have to be careful about making too much out of one appearance."

All but one of Johnson's 22 outings last season were as a starter. He pitched in relief on June 1 in Seattle, three days after being lifted from a start in Oakland after three innings. Johnson said after Tuesday's game that he has no interest in being a reliever.

Rhodes now a visitor

After spending the first 12 years of his professional career in the Orioles' organization, left-hander Arthur Rhodes still is getting acclimated to life as a visiting player at Camden Yards.

Having stopped by the home clubhouse Tuesday, Rhodes spent part of the Orioles' batting practice yesterday chatting with Delino DeShields and Eddie Murray along the left-field line.

"It feels strange a little bit, but it's great to come back here," said Rhodes, who signed a four-year deal with the Mariners in December. "I went over there [Tuesday] and talked to a couple guys to see how they're doing."

Rhodes, who got one out in the ninth inning last night but was on the mound when the Orioles scored the winning run, has been faring quite well this season. He has allowed only six runs in 18 innings while working in a setup role. He has walked eight and struck out 19, and going into last night, opponents were batting .206. Rhodes didn't display that kind of control last season, when he walked 45 and struck out 59 in 53 innings and compiled a 5.43 ERA.

Rhodes, who has a home in Hunt Valley, never agreed with the way former manager Ray Miller handled him last season, balking at the number of times he warmed up without entering a game. He often would be unavailable for days, which would tax a bullpen that already was running on fumes.

"They're using me totally different here," he said. "I come into games in the eighth inning and get out whoever I need to get out, and that's it. I'm pitching back-to-back days and feeling good. Lou [Piniella, manager] is doing a good job with me."

Referring to Miller, Rhodes said, "I'm getting used right. I don't think he knew how to use a bullpen. You can't get somebody up three times and try to stick him in a game when he's already worn out."

Rhodes said he wanted to return to the Orioles this season, but they never upgraded a three-year offer.

"I tried to work it out with them, but they didn't want to budge," he said. "I just got tired of it, tired of waiting."

Efficient Rapp

Pat Rapp said his right arm felt pretty much like it does after any other start, though Tuesday's performance was far from typical.

Rapp threw 113 pitches in seven innings, an economical total for someone known for working deep into counts. Of those pitches, 100 were fastballs, 12 were curveballs and only one was a changeup.

So why was Charles Johnson, squatting behind the plate, catching so much heat from Rapp?

"I had a good cut on my fastball away to righties and I just kept throwing it," Rapp said. "I got a lot of pop-ups to right. It seemed like everything was to Delino [DeShields] or Albert [Belle]. That's the way I like it. I'll take it."[Hargrove] asked me why I didn't use my changeup, and I just told him I didn't get into a situation where I needed to use it."

Unfortunately for Rapp, the situation didn't allow him to post a victory. He is winless since April 25, when he was 3-0. He's lost twice and had three straight no-decisions. The latest came after closer Mike Timlin allowed a homer to Jay Buhner in the ninth inning that erased a 2-0 lead. The Orioles won in the bottom of the ninth, 4-2, on Cal Ripken's homer. The win went to Timlin.

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