Days like today make the Baltimore Orioles believe there is something more than agony and defeat awaiting them in the future. And on a day when young right-hander Jason Johnson delivered his most impressive outing of the season, Manager Ray Miller peered into that future, knowing he may not be a part of it himself.
Johnson went seven-plus strong innings in a 9-5 victory over the Oakland A's in front of 17,271 at Network Associates Coliseum, snapping the Orioles' six-game losing streak and sending them home to Baltimore with a 1-5 record on their West Coast trip.
The Orioles' offense broke out of an extended slump, chasing former Oriole Jimmy Haynes in the fifth inning and bashing 14 hits, including homers by Albert Belle and Mike Bordick.
Before today's game, with the Orioles having all but conceded this season, Miller lobbied for the future. Lately, he has been making an effort to point out the shortcomings of the $84 million team he is charged with running, treading on territory he previously has avoided.
Today, Miller bemoaned the lack of speed that hinders the team's ability to manufacture runs. He also repeated his desires to see young prospects called up and to move center fielder Brady Anderson to left field.
"I think [Anderson] has lost some range in the outfield, especially since he has been hurt," Miller said. "It's very obvious. We're going to have to get somebody in there who can fly."
Miller's suggestion does not sit well with Anderson, who endured the same talk last winter when the Orioles pursued free agent Brian Jordan. However, Anderson has not responded publicly to Miller's comments. Anderson, who has been nursing a sprained ankle, went 1 for 5 with a stolen base today and is hitting .214 (3 for 14) since returning to the lineup.
Whether Miller will be around next season to see such changes is another question. It is widely assumed Miller will be fired after the season, and even he has joked about it to reporters.
Asked what he hopes to accomplish in the next two months, Miller paused before saying, "You want the guys who are having good years to continue to have good years. You want to see the continued progress of [Sidney] Ponson and Johnson. . . . It would be nice to see us bring up a bunch of younger guys and let them play, but we have guys under contract who aren't optionable people."
Miller said the club will use these next two weeks to see where third baseman Ryan Minor stands, and whether he joins Jerry Hairston and Jesse Garcia on the list of Orioles prospects who have proved their major league worthiness this year. Minor, who was called up Tuesday when Cal Ripken went on the disabled list, went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored today.
Johnson, 25, long ago proved his ability, enough so to earn a spot in the Orioles' projected 2000 rotation, along with Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Matt Riley. Today, Johnson had his most dominant stretch of pitching this season. After Jason Giambi's solo homer with two outs in the first, Johnson retired the next 12 batters, with only two balls leaving the infield, before allowing a two-out walk in the fifth.
"This was my best game the whole year," Johnson said. "My mechanics were exactly where I want them. I wasn't falling off toward first base like I had been doing. . . . Every pitch, from the first pitch on, I felt like I knew exactly what I was doing."
Johnson was visibly upset when Miller removed him in the eighth, after Johnson gave up a double and a single. But Johnson said he was mad at himself, not Miller.
"It was probably the right time" to be removed, Johnson said. "I was upset at myself. I wanted to get past the seventh. I haven't gotten farther than the seventh the whole year."
"I want him to get some momentum," Miller said. "When you get people out by going right after them, you get more time out there and start feeling better about yourself. He still has a tendency to be a little too fine sometimes. But he's got a high upside."