What will the Orioles do with Steve Johnson?
Johnson was one of many feel-good stories of 2012, exceeding most people’s expectations. After years of toiling in the minor leagues, he finally got a chance.
But, did he get an authentic one?
Johnson got invited to spring training for the first time, but didn’t stay long. He went back to Norfolk.
In 2011, Johnson didn’t do well at Norfolk, with a 2-7 record and 5.56 ERA. He’d been promoted after going 5-1 with a 2.16 ERA at Bowie.
For some, he was just another minor league pitcher, but for the Orioles, he was family.
Steve’s father, Dave was probably the ultimate hometown hero. Part of the fabled 1989 “Why Not” team, Johnson symbolized the blue-collar ethos of the Memorial Stadium crowd.
A generation later, his son made the major leagues.
Steve Johnson went to St. Paul’s, and instead of going to college, went off to play minor league ball when the Dodgers drafted him in the 13th round of the 2005 draft.
After four years, he finally made it to Double-A, and was shockingly traded to the Orioles along with Josh Bell for George Sherrill.
There was that hometown thing again. No one would have noticed if another Double-A pitcher named Johnson had been a pick-up, but it was Dave’s kid.
After baseball, Dave Johnson stayed around Baltimore and got into broadcasting, keeping his profile high.
After seven starts with Bowie in 2009, Johnson was taken by the San Francisco Giants in the Rule 5 Draft.
The Giants, who would win the first of two World Series that season, quickly returned Johnson to the Orioles. Back to Bowie Johnson went.
Johnson was 4-8 with a 2.86 ERA at Norfolk, but there were a few special trips during that season.
There was the two-day trip to the West Coast in early July where he sat in the bullpen unused before being returned.
Then came the debut. On July 15, Johnson pitched the final two innings at home against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers before getting sent back to Norfolk.
Johnson got called back up for the third time to start against Seattle on Aug. 8. He struck out nine in six innings and won. He won all four of his decisions and three of his four starts, though he didn’t pitch regularly.
On the roster for the Wild Card Game, Johnson wasn’t active for the Division Series, though was with the club.
His stat line was impressive: 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA, just 23 hits and 46 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings.
That still doesn’t guarantee Johnson a place on the 2013 Orioles. There’s lots of competition for starting spots: Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez will be back. Joe Saunders could be. Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are coming along. Tsuyoshi Wada will be back, too.
Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter may still be around, too, and last week, the Orioles added Zach Clark to the 40-man roster.
Johnson could be a long man, but so could Arrieta, Clark or Hunter.
The Orioles could try converting him to short relief, but for now, they looked stacked there.
Johnson’s accomplishments in 2012 were impressive. He just hopes the Orioles find a place for him.