PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – It’s probably academic now. Steve Johnson isn’t destined to be the Orioles’ fifth starter. He may well help the team during the season, but unless something drastically changes, Johnson will probably start the season at Norfolk.
Johnson became undone during a three-run third in the Orioles’ 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays before 3,872 at Charlotte Sports Park on Friday.
He retired the first eighth Rays, and then walked Jason Bourgeois, Sean Rodriguez and Mike Fontenot to load the bases. Evan Longoria hit a sinking line drive to left fielder Trayvon Robinson who tried to dive for the ball instead of shorthopping it, and it skipped past Robinson for a three-run double.
“I'm not real sure what happened” Johnson said. “I felt like I battled that first walk. I was a little up, but it happens. I tried to go out of the stretch and I just couldn't get in sync. I was a little out of sync for two batters and that led to two more walks.
"I threw some close pitches but you can't really get yourself in that situation to leave it up to the ump. Obviously, I was all over the place and I'm, not going to get anything close. I had to battle and I didn't do too well.
"It's just very frustrating. I go from having a pretty decent out, cruising along, and three batters kind of screw it up."
In four innings, Johnson gave up the three runs on two hits and the three walks. He struck out two. His ERA rose from 2.00 to 3.46.
“Everything was good except the one inning," manager Buck Showalter said.
“That was uncharacteristic for him. He may do it for a hitter, but he gets right back in sync."
Last Sunday, Johnson allowed three hits in four scoreless innings against Minnesota. This one wasn’t nearly as artistic.
“Yeah, it wasn't good for him, but he's pitched well. Throw that inning out and he was pretty good today," Showalter said.
Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz are his primary competition for the No.5 starter, with Arrieta looking to have the edge based on his 14 2/3 scoreless innings over his last three starts.
“"You want to have good outings all the time, and especially now," Johnson said. "It's kind of crunch time. You don't want to have anything happen like this, especially a couple batters in a row."
Johnson is in line to start next Wednesday night’s game against the Yankees. Showalter has ruled out using his top starters against AL East opponents. He acknowledged that he would probably keep some starters on the roster to pitch in the four games the Orioles have left this spring against Boston, New York, Tampa Bay and Minnesota, who they’ll play in the second series of the season.
“Three batters I let get away from me. It sucks and it sucks that it resulted in three runs, but it happens and I came back and battled and got a quick next inning. Hopefully, I get another outing and show that was a fluke," Johnson said.
Jair Jurrjens, who was thought to be in the competition for the fifth starter’s job at the beginning of camp, threw the best he has all spring when he followed Johnson with just two hits in five innings.
“That’s as good as I’ve seen him today,” Showalter said.
“Regardless of which hitter was against all that other stuff, he was in command. That’s pretty solid right there. Down with everything with a couple exceptions. Pretty impressive. We got to make some decisions where he’s concerned toward the end of the month.
In his first start with the Orioles, Jonathan Schoop was 3-for-4 with three RBIs including a two-run home run. Schoop returned Wednesday from playing for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
“This is the first look I’ve really gotten to see a real good look at him.He was excited to play,” Showalter said.
teve Pearce added a home run, his fifth of the spring.
-Ryan Flaherty’s father, Ed, who’s a longtime baseball coach at Southern Maine University, won his 800th game. Flaherty is the 13th coach in the history of NCAA Division III to win 800 games.
-Mark Hendrickson, whose wife gave birth to their third child on Wednesday, will return to camp on Saturday.
-The Orioles host the Phillies on Saturday. Wei-Yin Chen, Jim Johnson and Darren O’Day pitch for the Orioles. Aaron Cook, Antonio Bastardo, Phillipe Aumont and Mike Adams pitch for Philadelphia.
-Chris Tillman is scheduled to start against Pittsburgh in Bradenton on Sunday. Brian Matusz will pitch at the Twin Lakes complex.
-Rick Adair went to Twin Lakes to watch Jason Hammel throw. Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin filled in.