Finger points to setback for J. Johnson; Blister pushes next start to Thursday A's finale; signs not good on Rhodes


With the blister on his right-index finger slow to heal, Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson is being held back from his next start until Thursday in the finale of a three-game series against Oakland at Camden Yards.

Johnson had to leave Wednesday's game in Minnesota after five shutout innings because of the blister. He had gone to the mound in the sixth but was removed after manager Ray Miller summoned plate umpire Larry Young to confirm the injury. Two relievers completed his sixth victory in 13 decisions and third in a row.

"He gets it back to where it's almost right, and then he pitches and tears it up," Miller said.

Johnson had been scheduled to start Monday against Seattle, but Sidney Ponson will take his place on seven days' rest, the same amount Johnson will receive. Miller had wanted to "freshen up" both pitchers, another factor in delaying Johnson's next turn.

"It's a little bit of both," Miller said, weighing the impact of the blister and the need for Johnson to get some extra rest.

As it now stands, Miller is working with a seven-man rotation. Doug Linton started last night. Left-hander Doug Johns gets the call today after shutting out Cleveland for six innings on Monday. Scott Erickson goes tomorrow, followed by Ponson, Mike Mussina, Matt Riley and Johnson.

Mussina's start is tentative and shrouded in hope and optimism within the manager's office. He's thrown from a mound three times this week, including a three-inning simulated game in Minnesota on Thursday, and has another session lined up for today.

He last pitched on Aug. 22, when he was nailed behind the right shoulder by a line drive that dramatically increased the degree of difficulty in attaining his first 20-win season.

Riley will be making his second major-league start, following up Thursday's rocky debut in the Metrodome. The 20-year-old left-hander threw 69 pitches in 2 2/3 innings, leaving with a 2-2 tie and the bases loaded.

He hardly could mask his disappointment when Miller strolled to the mound to make a pitching change, though it proved the right decision when Jim Corsi induced the final out and held the damage against Riley to a minimum.

"I said, 'I'm going to get you right here. You've thrown a lot of pitches," Miller said. 'I also said, 'It's not as bad as you think it is, especially if we get this guy right here. You've only given up a couple runs, and you're in the big leagues, and you're only 20 years old. You ought to be pretty happy about that, so walk off and feel proud.' Now, if he heard me? Probably not."

Miller said there was no temptation to see if Riley could escape the jam. "He had missed really bad the last seven or eight pitches. I'm not going to sit there and let him give up another walk or throw a bomb and he comes out with more than two runs scored on him."

Pessimism on Rhodes

Arthur Rhodes will keep his tender left-index finger in a brace for another 10 days, and general manager Frank Wren indicated the club isn't expecting him to be available until the season's final week -- if at all.

Rhodes was examined by a hand specialist on Tuesday because of soreness and swelling resulting from a batted ball that struck the finger during an Aug. 22 game against Chicago. Rhodes has pitched once since then, offering 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

"The specialist told us it hasn't progressed a lot over the last week," said Wren. "They'll try to calm it down to where it can try to heal."

Asked if waiting another 10 days makes it hard for Rhodes to come back, Wren said, "It starts getting borderline. At that point we'll evaluate."

Reyes looks for answers

After making an immediate impact on the Orioles' bullpen upon his arrival from Milwaukee, right-hander Al Reyes has been struggling with his mechanics lately and getting knocked around.

Reyes, acquired on July 21 for Rocky Coppinger, has given up seven runs over his last four appearances covering three innings. He's allowed seven hits, walked three, and also has blown two saves -- the first on Sept. 3, when he surrendered a three-run homer to Cleveland's Roberto Alomar.

Reyes also was charged with a blown save in Minnesota on Thursday, when the Twins scored twice in the sixth inning, but gained his first win in four decisions after the Orioles reclaimed the lead in the seventh.

"We talked about it [Thursday] night. His arm slot is lower than it has been," Miller said.

"The one thing that's been missing is his changeup. I ordered him to throw changeups [Thursday] night, and he threw some good ones.

"During that series of great runs he had for us, he was showing a great changeup. That really kept lefties and righties off him. The two times prior to last night, he was basically fastball and slider and got hurt."

Chance for Pickering

Calvin Pickering made his first start last night since joining the Orioles on Tuesday, serving as the designated hitter. In his only previous appearance, he walked as a pinch-hitter on Wednesday and finished the game at first base.

Miller said he'll consider giving Pickering a start at first, if he can pry it away from Jeff Conine, who made his 26th consecutive start there last night.

"Conine's had such a great year, but we want to look at Pick. I'm going to try to get him some at-bats," Miller said.

Around the horn

Center fielder Eugene Kingsale was given the night off to recover from the pounding he took on the Metrodome's turf. "You talk about the effect turf has on older players, but he's had both knees iced and his elbows and everything else," Miller said.

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