Needing a starter for Sunday and encouraged by the reports coming out of Triple-A Rochester, the Orioles have called up Jason Johnson from the minors after three starts that erased the miserable impression he made in spring training.
Johnson, who permitted 52 base runners in 22 innings in Florida, will join the club today in Oakland, where the Orioles begin a seven-game road trip that includes a stop in Chicago. He'll take Calvin Maduro's place in the rotation after being projected as the No. 3 starter this spring.
To make room for Johnson, the Orioles have optioned reliever Al Reyes to Rochester.
Johnson was 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA with the Red Wings. He led the International League with 19 strikeouts, exhibiting the kind of control that had deserted him.
A five-hit shutout on Tuesday clinched the Orioles' decision. Johnson's next turn conveniently falls on Sunday.
"He's pitched very good from the beginning," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. "The last game was as good as you can get. He had four out pitches. His fastball averaged 92 [mph], with a high of 94 and with good life. He also had above-average breaking stuff. And he didn't walk a man until the ninth inning."
Reyes was given the news while standing in the clubhouse after yesterday's 8-4 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He almost pitched himself off the club in spring training before he rebounded with a few good outings near the end, but had given up five runs and six hits in five innings, along with three walks, this season.
"I had no idea," he said. "I'll go down and pitch and try to come back to the team. They make the decisions, and I'm the one they picked to send down. I can't do anything about it. I was kind of surprised, but that's the game of baseball."
Convinced after numerous bullpen sessions that he's ready to take the next step toward returning to the Orioles, pitcher Scott Erickson will report to Single-A Frederick on Tuesday for a rehabilitation assignment that may not last beyond one game. He'll start for the Keys that night against Potomac at Harry Grove Stadium.
These will be the first hitters Erickson has faced since having arthroscopic surgery on March 3 to remove bone chips from his right elbow. His pitch count will range somewhere between 70 and 90.
Manager Mike Hargrove said he's not certain how long Erickson's assignment will last. All that's known is Erickson will accompany the team to Oakland for a three-game series beginning tonight before being detoured to Frederick while the Orioles head to Chicago.
Ripken comes through
Proving that he's a tough act to follow, Cal Ripken spared the drama while collecting career hit No. 3,002.
Ripken led off the fourth inning with a bouncer up the middle. Former Orioles shortstop Ozzie Guillen made a diving stop, but Ripken beat the throw. He later scored on a sacrifice fly by Mike Bordick.
The moment didn't quite match Ripken's game-winning homer the previous night, or the single on Saturday that brought No. 3,000. But they can't all be show-stoppers.
When the Orioles signed veteran David Howard to a minor-league contract on March 30, speculation began almost immediately that the club wasn't satisfied with utility infielder Jesus Garcia, who led the Orioles with five errors in spring training. Howard, who played seven positions for the St. Louis Cardinals last season, was viewed as a threat to Garcia's job. He'd report to Triple-A Rochester, get a few games under his belt and be in Baltimore.
It won't happen.
The Orioles soon found out that Howard had injured his quadriceps muscle before being released by the Colorado Rockies. He retired before ever playing a game with the Red Wings.
Around the horn
Will Clark walked twice yesterday, increasing his total to 14. That left him one behind AL leaders Jose Offerman and John Olerud. Charles Johnson has reached safely in his last 12 games. Matt Riley, who was sent to Rochester after a troubled spring that included an arrest, has landed on the disabled list with a sore left shoulder. He allowed 11 earned runs -- including three homers -- and 15 hits in seven innings.