Jason Johnson may owe Erickson tip of the cap

al notebook


If Jason Johnson keeps pitching well, a former Oriole may get a thank-you card in the mail.

Johnson, who is 2-0 with a 1.83 ERA in his first three starts with the Cleveland Indians, said he has been using a refined sinker with a grip taught to him by sinker specialist Scott Erickson when the two were Orioles teammates.

"I like it a lot," Johnson said. "I am comfortable with it now."

Johnson showed it off Tuesday, when he allowed just one run in seven innings in his former home park. The first seven outs he recorded came on grounders - a departure from the Johnson that Baltimore knows.

While with the Orioles, the lanky right-hander tended to make mistakes up in the strike zone. His best ground ball/fly ball ratio with the Orioles was an unimpressive 1.31 in 2003. But he improved to second in the league among starters with a 1.74 mark last year and has an amazing 3.25 ratio so far in 2006.

By keeping the ball on the ground, he also has kept it in the park. In his career, Johnson has averaged nearly one home run allowed per start. This year, he has given up just one homer in three games (19 2/3 innings).

The new grip may lead to a resurgence for Johnson, 32, who is 54-86 lifetime. A free agent last winter after a 210-inning season with the Detroit Tigers, he had to wait for most of the other available starters to come off the market. The Mariners and the Indians were the most interested, but when Seattle signed Jarrod Washburn, Cleveland became Johnson's primary suitor.

He agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million deal with a mutual option (and $500,000 buyout) for 2007. Now, after playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Orioles and Tigers, Johnson finally is on a club with legitimate postseason hopes.

"Cleveland called and I was definitely happy about that because they are definitely a team on the rise," Johnson said. "And I was looking for that."

A new look

The hulking presence of Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz has created another defensive scheme: the five-man outfield. A left-handed hitter, Ortiz is used to batting with three infielders shifted to the right of second base. But on Tuesday at Fenway Park, Tampa Bay added a twist the two times Ortiz batted with no one on base.

The Devil Rays sent third baseman Ty Wigginton to left field, pushing the regular outfielders to their right. Second baseman Jorge Cantu moved onto the outfield grass in shallow right. Only shortstop Tomas Perez and first baseman Travis Lee remained on the infield dirt. It worked the first time, with Ortiz grounding out to Perez. But he doubled off the left-field wall in his second at-bat.

"Crazy, man," Ortiz said about the alignment. "But whatever they do, they can't catch the ball if you hit it off the Green Monster."

Quick hits

The Red Sox's Curt Schilling has started 4-0 for the first time in his career ... Cleveland rookie Fausto Carmona, 22, said he was more nervous talking to the media after his debut win than he was pitching in the game. ... Of the Los Angeles Angels' 28 losses at Camden Yards since 1997, 13 have come by one run.

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