Generally speaking, when a pitcher in his 28th career start walks three of the first seven batters he faces, throws 37 pitches in the first inning and another 25 in the second, gives up a grand slam on a down-the-middle fastball and puts his team in a five-run hole, he relinquishes whatever right he had to remain in the game.
But Jason Johnson, the losing pitcher in the Baltimore Orioles' 7-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians today at Jacobs Field, was upset that Manager Ray Miller replaced him after the second inning, which Johnson closed out with strikeouts of Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez.
"I was finally starting to get into a groove and he pulled the plug on me. There's nothing I can do about that," said Johnson (3-7), who gave up a grand slam to Jim Thome in the first inning and an RBI double to Omar Vizquel in the second. "Of course I'm not pleased. When you get taken out in the second, you can't be happy, especially when you're feeling good. I was ready to go at least another four [innings]."
Miller countered that Johnson was not getting his breaking ball over the plate. "You can be a little patient with that and just go fastball-change-up, but those were up, too," Miller said. "When a guy gives up seven base runners and throws 62 pitches in two innings, you go to somebody else.
"Even though he struck out the last two guys, I've got Thome and [David] Justice coming up, and they already have five [runs] on the board."
In reality, it probably would not have mattered whether Miller went to his bullpen or left Johnson in the game. The game was already over. The Orioles' offense consisted of Jeff Conine and little else. Conine's homer with two outs in the second inning was the only run the Orioles managed against starter Steve Karsay (9-1) and two relievers.
Karsay, a mainstay of the Indians' bullpen this season, was making his first start since Aug. 7, 1998. He went five innings, allowing only three hits, and consistently blew 96-mph fastballs by the Orioles. He also threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 18 batters he faced.
"Offensively, we looked flat," Miller said. "But when you're down five runs, and the guys you have who can run don't get on base, it's hard to look exciting. . . . The effort's there. The bats may be tired, but we've been facing some pretty good arms."
Johnson's 3.77 earned run average in July impressed the Orioles so much they penciled him into their starting rotation for next season, but he has struggled in his past two starts. Covering for a tapped-out bullpen Monday in Tampa Bay, he yielded 12 hits and nine earned runs over four innings in a 10-9 loss. Today, he allowed more base runners (seven) than he got out (six), as his ERA ballooned to 6.69.
Thome's grand slam, on a first-pitch fastball, was the biggest blow, but it was set up by walks to Alomar and Justice and a single by Vizquel. Both the walk to Alomar and a walk later in the inning to Richie Sexson came after Johnson got ahead in the count 1-2.
"To me," Miller said, "it looked like he was trying to be too fine."
In the second inning, Johnson got ahead 1-2 to Alomar and Ramirez, and struck them out swinging on inside fastballs.
Asked if he felt the Orioles have given up on him, Johnson replied, "I hope not. I just have to keep pitching, and put this behind me."
Orioles Notes: Catcher Charles Johnson passed through waivers unclaimed, which would allow the Orioles to trade him before rosters expand on Sept. 1. However, star players routinely clear waivers this time of year, and General Manager Frank Wren said he does not intend to trade Johnson.
Johnson is on a one-year contract and does not become a free agent until after the 2000 season. Johnson's agent, Scott Boras, said today he is "more than willing to talk" to the Orioles about a long-term deal. . . .
Miller is not counting on having Cal Ripken back in the lineup when the Orioles return home Tuesday. "I know that because he should have been on the field the last day or two, but he hasn't been out of the training room," Miller said. "We miss his bat." . . . While Ripken remains on the disabled list, rookie third baseman Ryan Minor has struggled offensively (0 for his last 13 with four strikeouts) and defensively. But Miller said Minor probably will remain at third for now. Wren "wants me to play [Minor] and give him a chance," Miller said. "It's a tough call. We just throw him out there against [pitchers] he hasn't seen. But he's a good athlete. He just has to calm down and play." . . .
Miller hinted that the club soon might drop a pitcher and go with an 11-man staff, which would allow it to add another offensive player and increase the flexibility of its reserves. Among Orioles relievers, only left-hander Doug Johns has minor league options remaining. Johns allowed two runs in three innings today. . . .
First baseman Will Clark sat out the game because of a sore left elbow.