Given a new fork, Johnson digs right in

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Starter tries forkball with success vs. Yanks

Segui, Mills progress

Notebook

May 09, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson has added a forkball to his repertoire, which he used once in his last start and plans to incorporate a little more as the season progresses.

Johnson has been learning the pitch for about a week, with advice coming in many directions. Starter Willis Roberts, reliever Mike Trombley and pitching coach Mark Wiley have offered tips, and Johnson felt comfortable enough to use it against the New York Yankees' Bernie Williams during Sunday's game with a runner in scoring position and two outs in the sixth inning.

The pitch fooled Williams, as well as the plate umpire, who didn't give Johnson the strike he deserved. Johnson came back with a fastball that Williams swung through for the last out.

"I thought that was the perfect situation to throw it in because Bernie would not be looking for it. He'd be sitting on something, probably a fastball or a curveball," Johnson said. "[Catcher] Brook Fordyce called for it, I threw it and it went up, then it went down. I went, `Wow.' It surprised me as well as everybody else.

"I was confident with all my other pitches, so when he called for the forkball, and I had only thrown it maybe 10 times in the last four days, I was confident enough to throw it."

Johnson had used it about five times during his side session before Sunday's start, and two or three times after shortening up while throwing to pitcher Pat Hentgen during pre-game exercises. "It looked better than I thought it would," he said.

Wiley suggested the pitch to Johnson, who also throws two types of fastballs and curves, along with a changeup.

"He said adding one more pitch would give the hitter one more thing to think about," Johnson said. "And since I come straight over the top with everything, you have to come over the top to throw the forkball for a strike, so he figured that would be a good one for me. It felt like a normal pitch, and that's what I was most excited about."

For now, Johnson will limit his use of the forkball for when he needs an out. His next start, on Saturday, also comes against the Yankees. "[Williams] saw it, so I'll have to try it on some of their other hitters," he said.

Segui clears fence

David Segui took his first full round of batting practice before yesterday's game, putting a few balls into the left-field seats while batting right-handed.

Segui, recovering from an injury to his left hand, was eligible to come off the disabled list yesterday, but could remain there for a few more days. It's also possible that the Orioles will send him over to the minor-league camp in Sarasota, Fla., to get some at-bats in an extended spring training game.

"There's a chance but I don't know that we'll do that," manager Mike Hargrove said. "We've already talked about a number of things about David."

Segui hasn't played since Tampa Bay shortstop Felix Martinez stepped on his hand during an April 22 game at Tropicana Field. He took about eight swings outdoors on Sunday after hitting some soft tosses the previous day.

The Orioles will wait until today to activate Sidney Ponson from the disabled list and make a corresponding roster move. Left-hander B. J. Ryan could be sent to Triple-A Rochester, with Chuck McElroy joining Buddy Groom as left-handers in the bullpen. Outfielder Eugene Kingsale also could return to Rochester, though that might come when Segui is activated.

Ponson, making his first start since April 15 against Tampa Bay because of elbow tendinitis, most likely won't be placed on any pitch restrictions.

"We'll just watch him. I don't think he'll be on any limitations. He should be OK. He could go nine if he can," Hargrove said.

"If we put him on a pitch limit, it won't be 60 or 70. It'll be 80-plus, but I don't think we'll do that. There are no plans to right now."

Mills heating up

Reliever Alan Mills, who began the season on the disabled list while recovering from September shoulder surgery, increased his velocity while throwing a scoreless inning yesterday in Sarasota, Fla.

Mills, facing a collection of Pittsburgh Pirates minor-leaguers, reached 88 mph and didn't report any discomfort. He allowed a single, on a high changeup, and hit a batter. Mills threw a first-pitch strike to every batter.

"That was better than the last time, and he felt good," said third base coach Tom Trebelhorn, who watched Mills throw.

Trebelhorn also was impressed by Matt Riley, but more for his dedication than his left arm. Riley remains on a limited throwing program after having ligament-transplant surgery in August.

"He's working the way you'd like to see a guy work. He's the first one there, the last one to leave," Trebelhorn said.

Outfielder Luis Matos, who had surgery this spring to tighten his left shoulder capsule, also is in Sarasota and could receive clearance to begin hitting this week. Pitcher Luis Rivera, who had surgery during spring training to repair a torn labrum, still isn't throwing and will visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., before advancing to the next phase of his rehab.

Castilla benched

Tampa Bay's Vinny Castilla was benched again, this time after failing to hit behind a runner last night when the game was tied.

Castilla failed to advance Fred McGriff from second base with no outs in the sixth, prompting manager Hal McRae to take the third baseman out of the lineup.

McRae said Castilla, who asked to be traded or released after former manager Larry Rothschild benched him last month, will not be in the lineup tonight.

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