Battling stomach, Yanks, O's Johnson comes up empty

Minus food, pitcher throws 5 shutout innings, gets loss as hard luck continues

September 11, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Jason Johnson pitched with an empty stomach yesterday, a plan that kept him from feeling sick during Game 1 of the Orioles' doubleheader. Only his run support was weak.

Bothered by waves of nausea and sharp pains for the past five days, Johnson insisted on making his start and contending with daytime temperatures approaching 90 degrees. He took a shutout into the sixth inning and tried to keep the game tied in the seventh before leaving with one out.

A possible victory morphed into a 5-2 loss, as reliever Willis Roberts gave up a two-out single to New York's Juan Rivera that scored Jorge Posada for a 2-1 lead. Posada had led off the inning with a single off Johnson - only the fourth hit he allowed.

Deserving of a better fate, Johnson suffered his 13th loss in 17 decisions.

"You can't even imagine how it feels. It's very, very frustrating," he said. "I've gotten to the point where I'm just going to go out there and pitch my best and try to get a quality start. That's all I can do."

Improving his health tops his list of priorities. Team doctors examined Johnson Sunday night, and he'll make another visit after returning to Baltimore.

"They gave me a lot of different pills just to see if it was acid in my stomach," he said. "I'm taking everything I can, but it's still not working. That's why I have to go back."

"They did blood work on him and turned him loose," manager Mike Hargrove said. "Because it was lingering, they wanted to know if there was something else going on, and there wasn't, I guess."

The condition forced Johnson out of his previous start after 2 2/3 innings, the pain becoming so intense that he almost had to bend forward after every pitch. Noticing that he felt worse after eating - a steak and baked potato the previous night put him in agony - Johnson only consumed water and sports drinks before taking the field.

"It didn't hurt at all when I was pitching," he said. "I can't say I was 100 percent as far as strength."

Because he's diabetic, Johnson couldn't have gone so long without eating if not for an insulin pump doctors gave him before the 2001 season. His post-game meal consisted of rice and colorless soda - hardly the kind of spread that would be the envy of a minor-league clubhouse.

Nobody wants to trade records with him, either. Johnson, who threw 99 pitches, has lost four straight decisions. He's made five quality starts this season without getting a win.

"I know the guys go out there and battle. I just come up a little bit short," he said. "You give up a couple runs and you start to worry about it a little bit, but I try to keep it out of my head as much as possible when I'm pitching."

Johnson retired eight in a row before Raul Mondesi bounced a single into left field leading off the sixth. Nick Johnson followed with a hit-and-run single, and Rivera's sacrifice fly tied the game. Jason Johnson walked two batters before getting the last out.

"Jason did a good job for us," Hargrove said. "He gave us a chance to win and that's all we can ask our starting pitchers to do."

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