SARASOTA, Fla. – Steve Johnson is always getting overlooked. He did his best to make sure that he was noticed on Sunday, throwing four scoreless innings in the Orioles 7-1 win over the Minnesota Twins before 6,194 at Ed Smith Stadium.
Johnson isn’t flashy, and he knows that some of his close friends are trying to take his job.
Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are his principal competitors. In their most recent outings, the four have combined for 16 1/3 scoreless innings.
“It’s a great competition. Everyone’s done pretty well the last time out, so it is definitely a heated battle but it’s a lot of fun going out there and competing,” Johnson said.
“You’re not only competing against the other team but you’re competing against the other five, six, seven guys or however many we have going after the spot. So it’s a lot of fun and it’s just an honor to be in the running.”
Showalter picked his spots with Johnson late last season, and now he’s looking for good things from him.
“"I'll tell you, Steve's a good pitcher. You all have heard me all spring. He's one of those guys who seems that people overlook. I don't.
“I thought he pitched pretty well today. He's a guy that's easy to trust. He knows how to pitch and he's got a lot of ways to get you out,” Showalter said.
Johnson allowed three hits, walked one and struck out two.
"Steve continues to control the things he can control. And most times, you like the end product. He's not going to beat himself, he's going to give you a chance to win, and he knows who he is. And he pitches accordingly.”
Johnson doesn’t stand out, doesn’t necessarily look like an athlete.
"They're all different, and you can't overlook somebody who could be a strength just because he's not 6-4 and throws 96. He gets people out and doesn't beat himself. That's a good combination," Showalter said.
Johnson looks closely at how his friends are doing.
“It's a weird situation, to be honest with you, because you're friends with the guys and you want everyone to do well. You don't want anyone to go out there and put up an eight-spot, even if it may help you. It's a weird situation because you want everyone to go out there and have a good outing. When they come in, you say, 'Way to deal.' You're rooting for everybody and doing what you can control and then putting it into the coaches hands,” Johnson said.
You saw it at the end of last year how every start out there someone had to get the job done or they were going to find someone else to do it for the next time around. Every time out was like ‘to be announced.’ And I think that puts a little pressure on you and kind of makes you perform a little better. It’s a lot of fun going out there with so much on the line. Its definitely good to get those zeroes.”
Matt Wieters had a two-run home run. He’s now batting .500. Lew Ford had three RBIs, and his averaged dropped to .483. J.J. Hardy, who was 1-for-21, had his first home run of the year.
“It was definitely nice to put a barrel to a ball. I wasn’t really worried. We still have a few weeks left; I’ll get a few more at-bats. I wasn’t too worried about the first 25 [at-bats] or so, but that definitely felt good,” Hardy said.
Showalter wasn’t worried about Hardy with two weeks of spring training games still left.
“I know he's had six line drives at people here. I have kept that in mind. And that's great. You want that to happen down here. I found somewhere between 45 and 55 plate appearances is where guys really kind of hit their step, and we're in the mid-30s right now with him, so I'm fine. J.J.'s a very mature guy who understands where the finish line is and I'm fine with that. I trust him," Showalter said.
Jim Johnson and Darren O’Day each threw a scoreless inning. Jair Jurrjens allowed a two-out home run in the ninth to Brandon Boggs.
He allowed a run and two hits in three innings.
Jurrjens is behind the others in the competition for the starting spot.
With options remaining, there’s a chance he’ll have to go to Norfolk.
What can I say? We don’t think about it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. There’s nothing I can do about it. I’m going to keep working, keep getting better,” Jurrjens said.
NOTE: The Orioles optioned outfielder L.J. Hoes to Triple-A Norfolk. They now have 48 players in camp.