'Insomnia' relapse keeps Johns home; Personality changes seen; C. Johnson streak halted


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Orioles pitcher Doug Johns did not accompany the club on its nine-game road trip because of "personal reasons" related to a recurrence of the insomnia that also cost the left-hander part of the 1998 season, general manager Frank Wren said yesterday.

Johns is receiving treatment in the Baltimore area, according to Wren. His status for the rest of the season is uncertain. The Employee Assistance Program, designed to aid players and other organization employees with personal and medical problems, also has been notified of Johns' situation.

The Orioles, who freely addressed the absence of first baseman Will Clark, second baseman Delino DeShields and reliever Arthur Rhodes, did not address Johns' situation until confronted by reporters last night. Wren insisted the club's initial failure to disclose Johns' absence was due to its nature. However, a club source insisted Johns' condition is not drug-related.

Johns, 31, was charged with driving under the influence and possession of marijuana in downtown Baltimore following the team's season opener April 5. A continuance in the case was granted for after the season.

Wren referred to the "condition that caused his insomnia" but would not elaborate on the definition. Johns has been treated with medication since being placed on the disabled list with the condition retroactive to May 3, 1998, according to a club source.

"Doug didn't accompany us on this trip for personal reasons. He has had a recurrence of the condition that caused his insomnia a year ago," Wren said. "He's back in the Baltimore area being treated. I don't have any comment beyond that."

The move didn't completely take the Orioles by surprise. A number of players and club officials became concerned when Johns, a typically reserved personality, recently emerged as a clubhouse curiosity who played air guitars, slid headlong on tarps during rain delays and ran breakneck in the outfield before games. Johns and pitching coach Bruce Kison nearly came to blows on Sept. 10 when Johns initially refused to take part in a pitchers meeting that precedes every series.

Wren would not comment on whether Johns' "condition" is related to his recent transformation.

Johnson streak ends

Orioles catcher Charles Johnson entered last night's game against the Anaheim Angels with a chance to equal Ken Singleton's club record for consecutive hits. With four hits in Friday's 4-2 win, Johnson extended his recent blitz to nine consecutive hits, one shy of Singleton's 18-year-old mark. Johnson also had reached base in 10 consecutive plate appearances, leaving him three shy of the club record shared by Harold Baines and Jim Dwyer.

Both of Johnson's streaks died in the second inning when he grounded out. Two weeks ago, Johnson was trapped in a month-long slump. Now he is among the club's most productive bats.

The turnaround is especially remarkable for a player hurriedly traded last winter by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers were so frustrated with Johnson's offensive limitations that they suggested he attended the developmental Arizona Fall League. Johnson balked and the Dodgers later traded him to the New York Mets, who in turn moved him to the Orioles for reliever Armando Benitez.

Known exclusively for his defensive prowess, Johnson entered last night batting .256, 22 points above his career average.

Johnson's four-hit game Friday followed Tuesday's against the Oakland A's. The consecutive four-hit games were one more than in his first 600 major-league appearances.

Prone to a long swing, Johnson has worked extensively with hitting coach Terry Crowley since spring training. While Johnson remains a streak hitter, he has become more adept at hitting to all fields. Two of Friday's hits were to right field.

"We have an unbelievable hitting coach here and Charles has made a 1,000 percent turnaround since the beginning of the year," said manager Ray Miller. "He's always had a long swing. Crow has gotten it from long to about halfway there and at certain times for two-three days he gets it short. When it's short, he knocks the [heck] out of it."

Johnson began last night on an 11-for-15 tear that immediately followed a 10-for-66 stretch covering 23 games. Johnson went from Aug. 23 to Sept. 12 without an RBI and went into last night without a home run since Aug. 6.

Johnson has already followed a .179 April that included one home run and one RBI with the most productive month of his career, a May that included nine home runs and 20 RBIs. With almost 10 percent of his 101 hits this season coming in his last nine at-bats, Johnson said before last night's game he was unaware of the club milestones he was approaching. Nor was he especially interested in discovering his proximity.

"Right now I'm primarily interested in having good at-bats," he said. "I know I'm seeing the ball very well. I'm not cheating myself. The more good at-bats you have, the more hits you have. I'm giving myself a chance."

Slim pickings for Pickering

First base prospect Calvin Pickering hasn't received the same exposure this month as center fielder Eugene Kingsale, second baseman Jerry Hairston or third baseman Ryan Minor.

However, last night Miller plugged him into the lineup batting seventh as designated hitter. The appearance was Pickering's 11th in two stays with the club.

"The other guys here have put up some numbers," said Miller. "He was sick for a couple days and then he began working with Crow on some things. Tonight looked like a good spot for him."

Pickering will play in the Arizona Fall League for the Eddie Murray-managed Scottsdale Scorpions. There, he hopes to continue his defensive improvement at first base while compensating for a season in which injuries and illness have allowed the organization's top hitting prospect only 16 home runs, 63 RBIs and a .285 average at Triple-A Rochester.

"Eddie already has helped me on defense. I'm looking forward to working with him after the season," said Pickering, whose most persistent hindrance has been throwing. "I feel like I've gotten much better throwing to second base and working a double play."

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