TONIGHT: Johnson gets his starting wish, but not under best circumstances


SEATTLE -- All things considered, circumstances could be better for Dave Johnson's return to the Orioles' starting rotation.

The righthander makes his first start in more than three months tonight (10:05, no TV) in the final game of the season against Seattle. Not only is Johnson testing the quicksand engulfing the Orioles' starters, he's facing the team he'd probably least like to see, in one of his least favorite parks.

Johnson is 0-3 lifetime against the Mariners, with a 9.67 earned run average. He has given up 31 hits and 19 earned runs in 17 2/3 innings and the Mariners have clubbed him for a .403 batting average.

In his last start before being demoted to the bullpen and ultimately ending up on the disabled list, Johnson was hammered for nine hits and six runs in four innings against Seattle on April 29.

As if that weren't bad enough, Johnson steps into a tenuous situation at best. Two starters, Jeff Ballard and Jeff Robinson, have already lost their jobs and the housecleaning may not be complete. "We might not be finished yet," admitted manager John Oates. "I'm not going to say he [Johnson] is on trial, but we're going to pitch him as much as we can."

Translated, that means Johnson (1-3, 9.20) will pitch as often as his performance warrants.

In tonight's game, the Mariners will be going for their ninth win in 12 meetings against the Orioles this year. Rookie righthander Rich DeLucia (9-6, 4.71) will oppose Johnson.

Following tonight's game, the Orioles get a day to regroup before playing a three-game weekend series in Chicago against the surging White Sox, who trail the first-place Minnesota Twins by three games.

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