He may not admit it, but this season has had to hold some trying times for Orioles pitcher Steve Johnson. This spring, when about a dozen names were being tossed around as rotation possibilities, his wasn’t one of them. So, he went down to Norfolk to start the season, and watched as the parent club tried to solidify its rotation, sticking with Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter until they could stick with them no more. He watched as his the Orioles plucked teammate after Tides teammate, seemingly in desperation, trying to plug the holes in both the rotation and bullpen that certainly would have sunk most ships.
Up went Jason Berken. Down came Tommy Hunter. Down came Berken, up went Dana Eveland. Up went Stu Pomeranz, down came Eveland. Joel Pineiro was signed, and talk the talk centered around his future role in Baltimore. And the transactions kept coming. Matusz, down. Hunter back up. Hunter back down, Miguel Gonzalez up. Zach Phillips, up. And down.
He had an out clause in his contract, stipulating that if he was not a member of the 40 man roster at one point, he could opt out and become a free agent. The Orioles were apparently willing to take that risk, but when Johnson alerted told the team he was going to walk, the Orioles blinked. Thankfully. He got his spot on the 40 man, but still had to wait for the actual call.
The call came on July 2, as the Orioles added him as insurance. Two days later (and still having not made his ML debut), he was back on a flight to Norfolk, trading roster spots with Chris Tillman. And the roster moves in Baltimore continued…Matusz, back down. Arrieta, down. Miguel Socolovich. Zach Britton. And Hunter again. Jason Hammel went on the DL July 15, and Johnson was called back up. And the next day, he was sent back down. And Eveland came again. And Eveland went again.
Now, it’s hard to argue any single one of the transactions made by the Orioles this year. How Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter have been able to sweat the resources to keep this team in contention all season long is well beyond most baseball folks. But, for someone like Johnson, who’s paid his dues in the minors since 2005, and who in many ways was putting up the best numbers he ever has this season, being a spectator—and a travelling one at that—has HAD to take its toll.
Saturday night, he finally made his second big league start, 17 days after his first one. Forget the fact that his first start in the bigs—a six-inning, nine-strikeout, two-earned run win—warranted far more than a two-plus week rotation removal. Life isn’t fair. Johnson, we can say with some certainty, has figured this out.
Johnson (W, 2-0) got into early trouble, giving up a long, two-run home run to Edwin Encarnacion (34) in the first. But he gave up no more runs and just two more hits for the rest of his six innings. He struck out seven, walked two, and relied heavily on battery mate Matt Wieters to do the rest, both with the bat, and behind the plate.
Wieters nailed all three Blue Jays trying to steal on him. Offensively, while he did strike out three times, Wieters delivered a sac fly and an RBI single, Joining Adam Jones and JJ Hardy as O’s with a pair of RBIs apiece. Hardy’s RBIs came on a home run (17) that just did elude Jays’ outfielder Rajai Davis’ leaping attempt at the wall in the fifth. That shot was one of three hits for Hardy on the day, and gave the Orioles a 6-2 lead.
In relief of Johnson, Luis Ayala threw two shutout innings, and Kevin Gregg struck out the side in order in the ninth.
The O’s will go for the sweep of Toronto Sunday at 1:05. Chris Tillman (6-2, 3.71) pitches for the Orioles, against Toronto’s Henderson Alvarez (7-11, 4.84).
- The one thing you have to like about Johnson is his composure. To a certain extent, he does wear his emotions. But he also carries with him an outwardly obvious “I got this” air. He pitches with poise and confidence. Now, he’s pitched in five games total, throwing good starts at Toronto and Seattle, and a good relief appearance against Boston. When he’s faced good teams, pitching in relief against Detroit and Texas, he hasn’t fared as well. It’s a very small sampling, so the jury is still out, but you have to be impressed with the tenacity.
- JJ Hardy has a five-game hitting streak, and is now 5 for his last 9.
- Manny Machado, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Markakis chipped in multi-hit games.
- One has to wonder when the league is going to learn NOT to run on Matt Wieters. Until then, by all means, they should have at it.
- The birds left nine runners on base.