For O's Johnson, struggles continue

Pitcher gets roughed up again Friday vs. Angels, dropping record to 4-11

September 01, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Angels ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http://www.sunspot.net.

ANAHEIM, Calif. - When Orioles manager Mike Hargrove observed pitcher Jason Johnson in spring training, he didn't anticipate another season of double-digit losses and failed expectations. This was supposed to be an important summer for Johnson, not a repeat of what the club had already seen.

Rather than go to arbitration last winter, Johnson signed a two-year contract that paid him $1.8 million this season and $2.9 million in 2003, with appearance incentives that pushed the total package toward $5.3 million. He earned $350,000 last season while going 10-12 with a 4.09 ERA.

Having led the team in victories, and freed of any financial distractions, Johnson was poised to take more dramatic steps forward in his professional career. But he stumbled again Friday night, giving up five runs over six innings in a 6-2 loss to the Anaheim Angels at Edison International Field.

"Jason had no command of his fastball," Hargrove said after watching the Angels score twice in the first and fourth innings. "Jason threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, which helped, but when he needed to make a pitch - especially in the first - he went completely away from his fastball and threw a lot of changeups and curveballs."

The loss dropped Johnson to 4-11 this season, and 15-33 since 2000.

Asked how long it will take for Johnson to meet his vast potential, Hargrove said, "That's a question we're still trying to answer. He does have good stuff. It just hasn't worked for him consistently.

"I'm not disappointed in his effort or his work ethic, but in the results, yeah, it's been a disappointment."

The Orioles tried to rally in the sixth, getting a two-run homer from shortstop Mike Bordick after catcher Geronimo Gil broke up Mickey Callaway's no-hit bid with a one-out single to right. But Johnson served up a bases-empty homer to Darin Erstad in the bottom half - the first home run by the Angels in 57 innings, dating back to Aug. 23 at Boston.

"When we got close, we let them add on a run. You can't do that," Hargrove said.

"Bordy's home run was a huge hit for us, a huge lift. Letting them have that one run back took a little bit of the wind out of our sails."

The Orioles didn't have enough speed to catch the Angels, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh when Marty Cordova grounded into a double play.

"When things are going like this, those are the things that happen," Hargrove said.

Though unwilling to accept an excuse, Johnson conceded that he was fatigued. Serving as the Orioles' player representative, his attention had been divided between games and bargaining sessions until a strike was averted Friday. He also didn't get much rest after the Orioles' late flight from Texas arrived in Anaheim around 2 a.m.

"I think everybody was a little bit mentally and physically tired from everything that had gone on the last few days," Johnson said. "But I don't want to blame anything on the way I threw. I just didn't have the control that I expected to have."

At least the Orioles avoided the embarrassment of being no-hit by Callaway, who was making his second appearance this season after being called up from Triple-A Salt Lake. Replacing injured Aaron Sele in the rotation, Callaway retired 16 of the first 17 batters he faced before Gil's single.

"He had a good slider. We missed his slider a lot," Hargrove said. "It looked like he had good command of his pitches. He threw a lot of ground balls."

The outcome left the Orioles with their longest losing streak of the season at seven games.

"The trick," Hargrove said, "is not to let it go to eight."

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