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TONIGHT: Oates rearranges his rotation to insert Johnson into final series


DETROIT -- This having been a season of constant changes, it is only fitting that Orioles manager John Oates has rearranged his pitching rotation one last time.

This one, however, is not dictated by injuries, but by sentiment.

Dave Johnson (4-7, 6.93) will pitch the final game of the series against the Tigers tonight (7:35, no TV), facing Mark Leiter (8-6, 4.22). Johnson will be pitching a day earlier than normal, a move made to allow him to start the next to last game of the season.

"Why not?" said Oates, aware that pitching during the final weekend at Memorial Stadium would have special meaning for Johnson, a native of Middle River.

Oates has reserved the final game, which in this case is similar to drawing an Opening Day assignment, for Bob Milacki, the Orioles' winningest pitcher and most dependable starter this frustrating season.

Johnson's spot on the final weekend is the one originally slated for Jose Mesa, but Oates decided even before yesterday's game to make the change. "Now the timing is perfect," said Oates, anxious for Mesa to go out as a starter on a positive note. "I don't want to use the term 'shut down,' because we might use him [Mesa] in relief that last weekend if necessary.

"But this is a good one for him to go out on," said Oates. "It's good for him to have a positive result."

Likewise, the Orioles are looking to finish on a positive note. Yesterday's win enabled them to move into a tie with the Yankees for fifth place. That's as high as the Orioles have been since the sixth game of the season, when they were 3-3, and they open a three-game series in New York tomorrow night.

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