In his previous two starts, Orioles right-hander Jason Johnson had criticized Durwood Merrill's strike zone and Ray Miller's decision to go to the bullpen early. Today, with Merrill again calling balls and strikes, and Miller pulling him after seven innings, Johnson said not a word of criticism.

"I was happy about the way I pitched today," Johnson said. "I'm challenging every hitter right now."

As opposed to previous starts, Johnson got his fastball over the plate early in the count, falling behind 2-0 only three times, and when he missed, he missed low.

"Jason pitched much better," Miller said. "It didn't look like he was putting eight hours of thought into every pitch. He just relaxed and made pitches."

Johnson's shakiest stretch came in the fourth inning, when he temporarily lost the strike zone. With two outs, he walked Ron Coomer after getting ahead 1-2, then walked Matt Lawton, on four pitches.

When Johnson ran up a full count on the next batter, Terry Steinbach, he had reached the critical point at which several of his previous starts have collapsed. But he got Steinbach to ground out on an inside fastball. It was the only inning in which Johnson threw more first-pitch balls than strikes.

"Not to take anything away from Minnesota, but if you're playing a first-division club," Miller said, "the next guy usually hits one out of the park."

The Call-Up

Miller said he expects the team to call up from five to eight players when rosters expand Sept. 1. "You don't want to put 80 people in your clubhouse," he said. "But there are some people you want to see, and some people who have earned the job. I'd like to see [Jerry] Hairston again, of course, and [Jesse] Garcia if I can."

The Orioles are still contemplating calling up 20-year-old left-hander Matt Riley, the organization's top pitching prospect, from Class AA Bowie. "He's still pitching okay, but he's not dominating like he was, and Frank is getting concerned about [a lot of] innings pitched," Miller said. "My only input was, if we can, it would be good to see him." . . . Cal Ripken said today he is "getting closer" to being able to resume exercising his injured back. "I'm maybe a couple of days away," he said. Ripken has been on the disabled list since Aug. 1 with nerve irritation in his lower back.