Every year, there are players in major league spring training camps who are looking for jobs, men whose careers have been derailed by injuries or poor performance.
Last year, Nick Johnson was one of those looking to make a comeback. This year’s comeback story could be Jair Jurrjens.
The word that Johnson is retiring isn’t surprising. After his wrist injury, it quickly became apparent that he wouldn’t be helping the Orioles any time soon.
Johnson was once a mainstay of the Washington Nationals. He came from Montreal and was a dependable, good hitting first baseman. Johnson first came to the majors with the New York Yankees, and after injuries took years away from his career, returned there in 2010.
A year ago, Johnson attempted to return to the majors, and manager Buck Showalter played him early and often in spring training, taking him on road trips that most veterans were able to avoid.
Showalter’s aim was clear. He wanted to see if Johnson’s right wrist would hold up and the only way was to overbook him. Johnson’s wrist did make it throw the spring, and for nearly half the season, stayed with the club.
He had a rough start. Johnson was 0-for April, and after 28 hitless at-bats, finally got started with two hits on May 1.
Johnson was not a star in his months with the team, but his ability to draw a walk and play hard inspired the team. He mentored Ryan Flaherty, the Rule 5 draft choice and showed off a puckish sense of humor.
When the Orioles were playing the Nationals in Washington, Johnson volunteered to drive Flaherty. Knowing his way around the District, Johnson stunned Flaherty by taking him to RFK Stadium, the onetime home of the Nationals instead of their new home.
Johnson wasn’t a great talker with the press. Agreeable and amiable, he never offered much insight, but that was fine. He always did his best.
He leaves with a .268 batting average and a superlative .399 on-base percentage. Last year, he batted just .207 for the Orioles, but had a .324 OBP, much higher than the team’s average and also shocked fans with two stolen bases.
Johnson wasn’t much of a power hitter. He hit over 20 home runs once, drove in 70 runs just twice, but walked nearly as often as he struck out.
At 34, the man who tweets @sexyfeet24 will have more time to work on his golf game, and the betting here is that he’ll be back in baseball soon as a hitting instructor.
Meanwhile, Jurrjens, who celebrates his 27th birthday on Tuesday, will take his physical exam this week, and if he passes, will sign with the Orioles.
Jurrjens’ injuries aren’t of the arm, elbow or shoulder type, but have prevented him from being effective since July 2011.
Three years ago, the Orioles signed Justin Duchscherer, like Jurrjens, another one-time All-Star. Duchscherer was twice an All-Star. His career was shortened by a hip injury. He had one brief outing in spring training and spent the rest of the year watching.
He hasn’t been back since.
The Orioles are hoping that Jurrjens is much more Johnson than Duchscherer. They’ve been interested in him for a few years, and they’re probably a good club even without him.
-The Orioles signed outfielder Chris Dickerson to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Dickerson has spent parts of six seasons with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and the Yankees in the majors.
Last year, Dickerson batted .286 with two home runs and five RBIs in 25 games with New York,
He joins Lew Ford, Conor Jackson, Steve Pearce and Jason Pridie as non-roster outfielders in camp. Xavier Avery, L.J. Hoes and Trayvon Robinson, who are on the 40-man roster, will also compete for a spot.