Pitcher Steve Johnson, lost in Rule 5 draft, is back


Brian Roberts returns to clubhouse, stays mum

March 17, 2010|By Dan Connolly | dan.connolly@baltsun.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. — — Steve Johnson, the 22-year-old right-hander from Baltimore whom the Orioles lost last December in the Rule 5 draft, is on his way back to the organization.

The San Francisco Giants offered Johnson to the Orioles on Tuesday for $25,000 after Johnson allowed five hits and three runs in 4 2/3 innings this spring. The Giants paid $50,000 in December to acquire him in the draft.

Johnson walked six and hit a batter in the three games with the Giants. He has been assigned to Double-A Bowie and will be sent to the Orioles' minor league camp.

"We're glad to have him back," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "Whenever you deal with the Rule 5 draft, odds are, or have been, that the player comes back. And we're delighted with the way it turned out."

Johnson is a St. Paul's School graduate and the son of former Orioles pitcher and MASN broadcaster Dave Johnson. He was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July along with third base prospect Josh Bell in the trade for George Sherrill.

In his seven games with Bowie last season, Johnson went 3-2 with a 2.84 ERA. But he was not placed on the club's 40-man roster this past offseason, making him eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Overall, MacPhail said the situation benefited Johnson, who gained the experience and financial boost - big league meal money - of being in major league camp for a month and yet returns to an organization that still values his ability.

"Really, it's hard not to see the benefits of [him] being selected in the Rule 5 draft," MacPhail said.

Hernandez makes case
David Hernandez, who is fighting for a roster spot after having started 19 games for the Orioles last season, brought his spring ERA down to 4.50 on Tuesday by pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Minnesota Twins.

Hernandez allowed five hits and one walk while striking out two. He was on a 50-pitch limit but was so efficient that he was stretched out to 59 pitches. His fastball reached 95 mph, and he threw 10 changeups, a pitch he has been honing.

The 24-year-old right-hander is battling for a spot in the bullpen as well as for the fifth slot in the rotation, which likely will go to Chris Tillman.

"I'm just going to go out there and try to put up zeros, and it doesn't matter if I'm starting or a reliever," Tillman said. "I'd definitely like to be a starter, but if they need me in the bullpen, then so be it. I'll be more than happy, and I'll be ready."

Wieters to play more
Catcher Matt Wieters had just one hit in his first 13 spring at-bats, but Orioles manager Dave Trembley said he expects the second-year player to start hitting once he gets more playing time.

"I see good at-bats," Trembley said. "I see him at the point now where he needs to start getting at-bats in consecutive games in order to get into a rhythm. ... I am not worried about him at all."

Wieters will bat fourth and catch today's game against the Toronto Blue Jays and then be the designated hitter for Thursday's game. He'll get a day off Friday and catch Saturday and Sunday, possibly playing all nine innings Sunday.

Trembley said it's time for all his regulars to start playing consecutive games.

Closer getting closer
Hampered recently by a sore back, Orioles closer Mike Gonzalez played catch on flat ground Tuesday and looked comfortable. He might be able to pitch today against Toronto. Gonzalez has not thrown in a Grapefruit League game since March 8. He pitched in a "B" game Saturday but was able to face only two batters because of back stiffness.

"The last couple of days, I've felt pretty good," Gonzalez said. "I've just been going out there and making sure I get my arm in shape. I've still been throwing. I just backed off a little from the day-to-day activities. We're going to see how it goes [today]. Whether it's a bullpen or in a game, it's just about getting back on the mound and getting that feel back."

Waiting with Roberts
Second baseman Brian Roberts (herniated disk) was back in the clubhouse Tuesday morning but declined to comment while he waits to see whether the epidural shot he received in Baltimore on Monday helps alleviate his back pain.

"They said two days off and we'll see where he is at," Trembley said. "He wants to get out on the field. He wants to start playing. And we want him to start playing, too."

Around the horn
Reliever Jim Johnson pitched two innings during the intrasquad game at Ed Smith Stadium. He rolled through the first inning, throwing just 10 pitches, but he hit a batter and gave up a home run to well-regarded prospect Brandon Waring in his second inning, which lasted 22 pitches. ... Outfielder Felix Pie (sore left shoulder) resumed throwing and hitting Tuesday and expects to be in the lineup by Saturday. ... Minor league games for the Orioles' Double-A and Triple-A camps begin today on the back fields at Ed Smith Stadium.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Zrebiec and Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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