The issue became magnified during Sunday night's 8-7 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 4, when Johnson managed as if hamstrung while Scott Erickson and his bullpen struggled early.
Johnson allowed Erickson to surrender 11 hits and seven runs (six earned) in 4 2/3 troubled innings. He then left right-hander Terry Mathews to stew in the bullpen while left-hander Arthur Rhodes threw a wild pitch against right-handed hitter Marquis Grissom, a critical play on which the Indians scored twice to take a 7-5 lead in the fifth inning.
Mathews declined to comment after the loss but spoke with Johnson for more than 10 minutes before last night's game.
Before the series, Johnson said that any team needing 11 pitchers in a seven-game series had little chance of winning, and the statement hung over the Orioles before last night's victory.
Indians left-hander Brian Anderson has thrown 5 1/3 scoreless innings in the series, including 3 1/3 Sunday night to gain the win. Anderson was added before the series as the Indians' 11th pitcher.
"When your starter goes out in the fifth inning of a playoff game, what are you going to do, bring in a fifth starter?" said Johnson, referring to Rick Krivda, a left-hander excluded from the playoff roster.
"Maybe if you're trying to save your bullpen. But if you're trying to win, I'll go to the bullpen for Arthur Rhodes in that situation."
Last night, Johnson was able to give his weary middle relievers a rest, using Jimmy Key in relief of Scott Kamieniecki, who left after five innings with a sore right elbow. Key, roughed up in Game 2 and not slated to start again in the series, pitched three shutout innings to help the Orioles win, 4-2.
On Sunday night, Johnson stayed with Rhodes against Grissom partially because left-handed hitter Bip Roberts was on deck. Mathews has not appeared in six games since being booed heavily by a Camden Yards crowd before and during a rocky outing in Game 3 of the Division Series, leaving Johnson with a de facto nine-man staff.
Johnson's strategy has been confounded by the 12-inning Game 3 and poor starts by Key in Game 2 and Erickson in Game 4.
"There are a lot of situations where you'd rather keep an extra player than a pitcher. If you're keeping a long man, that means you're not winning," Johnson said. "How many times this year have two of our starting pitchers not been able to get out of the fifth inning? We got two good starts and two rough starts. Did I expect that? No. [But] we're not in bad shape."
Johnson also said there was some misunderstanding about who was eligible for the postseason roster. Right-hander Nerio Rodriguez was not with the team before rosters expanded Sept. 1, leaving him off the 28-man eligible list.
However, Rodriguez could have been included because of an elbow injury to Shawn Boskie. Under those circumstances, a team may draw from any player that appeared on its major-league roster.
General manager Pat Gillick and assistant Kevin Malone insisted there was no misunderstanding on their part and that the matter had been discussed beforehand.
Malone also said "there was some disagreement" among the team's brain trust, but that Johnson's support for a 10-man staff and 15 position players carried the most weight.
Pub Date: 10/14/97