Johnson adds union rep to assortment of pitches

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Club player rep duties `not too overwhelming'

February 25, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Along with trying to build on his 10-win season and perhaps make a push for the Opening Day start, pitcher Jason Johnson has accepted the added responsibility of being the Orioles' player representative during a potentially turbulent year.

Johnson has replaced Sidney Ponson, who didn't want to continue in that capacity. Ponson was filling in for Mike Mussina after the right-hander vacated the job by signing with the New York Yankees after the 2000 season.

With Ponson on vacation, Johnson said he was contacted by Phil Bradley of the Major League Baseball Players Association and agreed to attend the December union meetings in Dallas. Buddy Groom is assisting him.

"They started sending me a bunch of stuff and Sidney said he didn't want to do it this year, so they asked me if I'd do it for him. The meetings were the first real things I had to do," Johnson said.

"I've been getting all the packages and everything and looking it over. I expected it to be a lot of stuff, but it's not too overwhelming yet."

The heat could be turned up later. The labor agreement expired at the end of last season, and the two sides are in the process of trying to negotiate a new one. There's also the possibility of a strike or lockout, though neither is likely to happen this season.

Johnson will have to keep the team updated on negotiations and lead clubhouse meetings concerning such issues as rescheduled games due to postponements and other union matters. If Groom decides not to remain as the backup, Johnson said he might seek out Jeff Conine, with the meetings then being divided between pitchers and position players.

"It's going to be a little shaky this first year," he said. "But I'm sure I'm going to get used to it. And once I do, I think I'll be fine."

The gamble in taking the job is having Johnson split his focus after making significant strides by improving from 1-10 to 10-12 last season.

"Being a player rep is not a huge job," manager Mike Hargrove said. "It's an important job, but it's not huge. I don't anticipate it taking away from his concentration."

Johnson led the club with 10 victories but had none after Aug. 6. He lost his last six decisions.

"There are a lot of games I should have won and could have won in the second half. This year I'm going to make sure to work really hard and possibly come away with some of those wins," he said.

Johnson doesn't expect to take the ball for the April 1 opener at Camden Yards, though Hargrove hasn't named a No. 1 starter. "I haven't even thought about it because Scotty [Erickson] is in great shape and so is Sidney. It's all up for grabs," he said.

"It would be pretty cool. I'll definitely take it, but I'm not going to stress about it right now."

Mora awaits go-ahead

Melvin Mora will have his left hand X-rayed on Thursday to see if the fractured ring finger has healed enough for him to swing a bat for the first time this spring.

Mora is taking part in all the drills except hitting. "But that's what I want to do," he said.

Team orthopedist Dr. Charles Silberstein has recommended that Mora not grip a bat until being re-examined.

"He doesn't even want me to hold it," Mora said. "They want to make sure everything's 110 percent. I feel like I want to play."

Proud papa returns

Groom returned to the Orioles with two boxes of cigars to celebrate the arrival of his fifth child in Texas.

Lexi Marie Groom was born at 11:25 p.m. Thursday, the second daughter for Groom and his wife, Angela. She weighed 7 pounds, 13 ounces.

Groom flew into Fort Lauderdale on Saturday afternoon, giving him precious little time to spend with his family.

"It's hard to leave them, especially when I see all the other kids, too," he said. "I get the 2-year-old [Wyatt] out of his crib and he always gives me a big hug. I'm sure he's going around the house today saying my name."

Around the horn

The Orioles play the first of three intrasquad games today. Their first exhibition game is Thursday night against Montreal. ... Bothered by tendinitis, Luis Rivera remains on a closely monitored throwing program. "We're just taking it slow and easy with him," Hargrove said.

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