Hard-luck Johnson continues to battle


Injuries, lack of support overshadow 4.29 ERA

Matthews slides up to 2nd


August 15, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - When Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson pitched five strong innings in Friday night's 3-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers, he called it "the story of my year."

The Orioles are 3-11 in Johnson's starts this season, and yet he'll take a 4.29 ERA into tonight's start against the Minnesota Twins. Some of that has to do with poor run support. Some of it is just bad luck.

Johnson has been on the disabled list twice this season, missing six weeks after breaking his right middle finger in a freak accident simulating his pitching motion in the bullpen and then missing 2 1/2 weeks with tendinitis in his right shoulder.

Add it up and Johnson, 28, has a 3-9 record in what the Orioles were hoping would be his breakthrough season. He went 1-10 two years ago and then went 10-12 last season, spurring the Orioles to give him a two-year, $4.7 million contract.

"Jason's year has been frustrating from the standpoint that his stuff is better than three wins a year," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "And I think definitely the injuries have played a part in that, but you still can't escape the fact that his stuff says he should be better than three wins a year.

"It's something that he works on, and Mark [Wiley, the pitching coach] works on, and they'll get it straightened out. But there comes a point in time where that stuff has to translate, and I believe it will."

The Orioles have been shut out 12 times this season, and Johnson has been the losing pitcher in three of those games, including a 1-0 loss to David Wells and the New York Yankees and a 1-0 loss to Tim Hudson and the Oakland Athletics.

"He's still a young man," Hargrove said of Johnson. "If you look at where he was two years ago, he's light years ahead of where he was. That's good, and I'm not trying to sugarcoat it, or trying to find a silver lining. The fact is, he's a better pitcher than he was at this time last year."

Dirty dozen

With the 12 shutouts, the Orioles are in the company of the Kansas City Royals (12) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (13). A year ago, the Orioles were shut out 14 times. The club record is 20, set in 1955.

"I don't want to downplay that," Hargrove said, "but if you get beat, you get beat, whether you score no runs, one run or 100 runs. That doesn't concern me as much as our lack of offense the last four or five games."

On the first four games of this road trip, the Orioles managed just four runs, and they hadn't exactly faced a list of Cy Young candidates.

In Detroit, the Orioles faced Mike Maroth, Brian Powell and Steve Sparks, and in the first game against Minnesota, they faced Rick Reed, the same guy they pounded for six runs on 10 hits a week earlier at Camden Yards.

"We haven't scored a lot of runs all year," Hargrove said. "And when you have an offense that is inconsistent at times, and you don't have a lot of big power in your lineup, there are going to be times when you struggle."

Matthews hits second

Hargrove didn't revamp his lineup last night, but he did move Gary Matthews up to the No. 2 spot after hitting him third for 46 consecutive games. Hargrove said there was nothing permanent about the move, saying he might put Chris Richard there tonight.

Matthews has hit second 18 times this season. He has good speed, but one of the knocks on him coming into the season was his propensity to strike out too much. Last season Matthews struck out once every 4.1 at-bats. Entering last night, he had struck out once every 5.2 at-bats.

"He had a lot of knocks coming into the year," Hargrove said. "But we haven't seen very many of them manifest."

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