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O's not speeding to plate to face Johnson


Seattle's Randy Johnson may be the most exciting pitcher in baseball. So why won't the Orioles be excited to see him #F tonight?

Maybe it's the sight of Johnson, 6 feet 10, flying off the mound, his left arm hurling a 95-mph fastball at their heads or a slider that breaks 2 1/2 feet into the dirt.

"He's pitching tomorrow?" second baseman Bret Barberie deadpanned before yesterday's game. "Great."

Barberie has enjoyed relative success against him. The second baseman was one of two Orioles (fellow switch-hitter Kevin Bass was the other) who did not strike out against Johnson when he struck out 13 in 6 2/3 innings on May 26.

Johnson, who's 5-0 with a 2.16 ERA, gives left-handed hitters nightmares.

First baseman Rafael Palmeiro has one hit in 21 at-bats against Johnson and will get the night off.

"I'll play if I have to," said Palmeiro, who struck out three times in four at-bats against him May 26. "I'll try to make contact this time."

Palmeiro won't get the chance. But Jeffrey Hammonds, a right-hander, will.

Anything will be better than Hammonds' last experience with Johnson. Hammonds' flight from Double-A Bowie via Detroit arrived in Seattle two hours late. He got to the ballpark in the second inning. Before Hammonds even could get his seat warm, bench coach Chuck Cottier told him he was pinch hitting.

Hammonds started stretching in the tunnel. He hadn't swung a bat. He didn't know who was pitching. Then he stepped to the plate.

"Who do I look up and see, the Big Unit, Randy Johnson," said Hammonds, referring to the nickname opposing hitters have given him. "The first pitch was about as fast as the plane I was flying on."

Hammonds struck out. He was Johnson's 13th victim. Welcome back to the big leagues, Jeffrey.

Johnson's return will force manager Phil Regan to shuffle his lineup that had six left-handers yesterday. Regan said Palmeiro and Matt Nokes will not play, but right-handersChris Hoiles (catcher), Jeff Manto (first base) and Leo Gomez (third base) will. Bass also will see action, Regan said, probably in left field in place of Brady Anderson. Regan, a former pitcher and pitching coach, advised his players to lay off Johnson's slider.

"We swung at a lot of bad pitches against him," Regan said, "but that's probably normal for him, because he's got a fastball that's so overpowering."

Exciting? Maybe to the fans. But to opposing hitters, he's fearsome.

Remember John Kruk's bailout in the 1993 All-Star Game? Kruk didn't want to get beaned. In his last outing, Johnson nearly started a bench-clearing brawl with the New York Yankees by hitting Jim Leyritz.

The Orioles aren't looking to fight Johnson, but they don't want to get embarrassed, either.

"I'm surprised he doesn't pitch a no-hitter every year," Barberie said. "He's got that kind of stuff."

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