Johnson Gets Better of Former Team -- Again

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 4, 2005

DETROIT, June 3 -- After the 2003 season, the Baltimore Orioles had determined Jason Johnson was not consistent enough to win in the major leagues and finally let him go after five excruciating seasons during which he compiled a 34-53 record. His story of resiliency off the field -- he survived diabetes to reach the majors and wears an insulin pump on the mound -- was accompanied by one of untapped potential on the field.

Now that he's pitching for the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore wants no part of Johnson this season, either: After Friday's 5-3 decision at Comerica Park, three of Johnson's four wins this season have been against the Orioles, who are 1-5 against Detroit this season. Last year they won all six games against the Tigers.

"I really believe they have a good team," Orioles starter Bruce Chen said. "Their starters have been pretty good against us. But maybe we should play them more aggressive. There's no reason we can't beat those guys."

Johnson has pitched at least eight innings in five consecutive starts, but has won only two of them, including Friday's game.

"The kid pitched a good game against us," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He's getting a lot of movement on the ball."

Baltimore scored just one run in eight innings against Johnson but managed a small rally against him in the ninth. Johnson allowed the first two runners of the inning to reach base, both of whom scored, and he was pulled for reliever Kyle Farnsworth. The Orioles loaded the bases against Farnsworth and even came close to tying the score when Rafael Palmeiro sent a long fly ball to left field that was caught by Rondell White near the warning track.

"When I hit it, I thought it had a chance," Palmeiro said. "I thought he might not get to it either. He made a good play."

After David Ortiz's winning home run against B.J. Ryan helped the Red Sox deal a stinging loss to the Orioles on Thursday, Friday began with reasons for optimism. Baltimore learned second baseman Brian Roberts was not seriously hurt and could be back in the starting lineup Monday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Luis Matos, who broke his right ring finger on May 10, is a week ahead of schedule and will resume baseball activities today. Erik Bedard might only be a week and a half from rejoining the rotation.

But the glow from that news quickly faded with their sixth loss in their past eight games.

Through Thursday's game against the Red Sox was one to quickly forget, third baseman Melvin Mora perhaps took one important nugget from that three-run Boston ninth inning. Edgar Renteria had surprisingly bunted with two outs to extend the inning, and Mora was caught playing too deep.

In Friday's game with David Newhan on third and two outs, Mora noticed Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge was playing several feet behind the base. Mora stuck his bat out and sent a perfect bunt down the third base line, scoring Newhan to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. It was Baltimore's only lead of the night.

That lead vanished in the fifth when Ivan Rodriguez homered to left-center field, just his fourth home run of the season.

Orioles starter Bruce Chen was better than Johnson though the first six innings. He allowed only three hits through the sixth and entered the seventh having thrown only 67 pitches. But with one out in the seventh, White sent a flare to right field for a single. Rodriguez, who is playing despite having a hairline fracture on his right hand, followed with a double to right field to break the tie.

Chen was removed in favor of reliever Todd Williams, who allowed three run-scoring singles to break the game open. None of the singles were hit especially hard, yet they counted the same. Chen was only responsible for three of the runs. In his past three starts, Chen has allowed three runs or less but is 0-1 with two no decisions.

"We just don't get any runs for him," Mazzilli said. "Hopefully he's not the pitcher that every time he goes out he's tough to get runs for."


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