Anaheim, Calif. — Reliever Jim Johnson has always known how difficult it is to play in the major leagues, getting just one opportunity in each of his first two seasons with the Orioles before becoming a mainstay in the bullpen in 2008.
But this season, which included a demotion to the minors and an extensive stint on the disabled list due to right elbow inflammation, drove that point home.
"I think you have to earn everything in this game; no one's going to give you anything. It's not like the other team is going to lie down. You've got to scratch and claw and that's kind of the way you have to go about your business," said Johnson, who was activated Friday from the 60-day disabled list after not pitching in a big league game since April 30.
"Whatever abilities I have, I am going to give it everything I've got. It doesn't last forever. That's another thing that pops up. This game doesn't last forever so you have to make your time worthwhile."
Johnson, who was the club's closer in the second half of 2009 after George Sherrill was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, had a brutal start to 2010. Originally supposed to be the top setup man to newly signed closer Michael Gonzalez, Johnson was thrust back into the closer's role when Gonzalez was placed on the disabled list in the season's first week.
But Johnson struggled throughout April, going 1-1 with one save and a 6.52 ERA while allowing 15 hits, four walks and seven runs in 9 2/3 innings. He was demoted to the minors after being charged with his third blown save in 10 games on April 30. After one scoreless inning at Triple-A Norfolk, he was diagnosed with the elbow inflammation and shelved. He later admitted he had been pitching with pain the whole time, but tried to play through it.
"We play hurt. You have to with how many games we play. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the line between being hurt and being injured," Johnson said. "Now I know when it starts to affect certain things, obviously you can't do things you are supposed to be able to do, that turns into poor results. I don't have a number on how bad it was, but it wasn't good and I learned a lesson."
Johnson pitched in 10 games at three minor league levels during his rehab assignment. He didn't record a decision while posting a 3.75 ERA. He allowed 13 hits, one walk and struck out 12 batters in 12 innings.
"It's definitely good to get back," Johnson, 27, said. "It's been a long time. It's been a long season for me — I'm sure [for] a lot of guys here in the clubhouse. I am looking forward to finish up strong here, for the last part of the year."
Since Johnson has been gone, the Orioles fired manager Dave Trembley, replaced him with interim Juan Samuel and are now with new skipper Buck Showalter.
Showalter said he doesn't know much about Johnson, except that he has been an exceptionally effective reliever in the past and the Orioles missed his arm.
"What felt weird is him not being here for the Baltimore Orioles. I can tell you that. I think you'll get a taste of what he can and could have meant for our club," Showalter said. "Talking to a lot of people that have seen him and know him, there are a lot of good things being said about him."
Johnson hasn't pitched since throwing two scoreless innings for Double-A Bowie on Monday. He's rested and ready, so Showalter said he would get him into a game as soon as possible. In what situation, the manager wasn't sure.
"All hands on board," Showalter said. "You'd like to have the perfect situation expose itself but a lot of times people like the Angels don't cooperate. He's had a couple days off, don't want him to sit too long out there."
The situation doesn't matter, Johnson said, he just wants to get onto the mound.
"It's probably going to be a little different the first time out. Like anything, it's something I have done many times before so it should come back real quick," Johnson said. "Being away from the team and the game for that long is definitely something I haven't had to go through before. So, yeah, it's tough but you become better for it, I think, in the long run."
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