Johnson throws gem of own


Jason Johnson was the "other" pitcher yesterday, the guy who kept the ball warm until Mike Mussina returned to the mound and again captivated a sellout crowd at Camden Yards.

The Orioles' right-hander took it in stride. He knew all the fuss would be made over Mussina's first start against his former team, but Johnson did a nice job of steering from the back seat.

He was given a loud ovation after being removed in the eighth inning with the score tied 1-1. He had blanked the New York Yankees, and out-dueled Mussina in the process, until Tino Martinez and David Justice opened the seventh with singles and Jorge Posada hit a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left.

Johnson warmed up in the eighth, but only to allow reliever Mike Trombley more time to get ready in the bullpen. It didn't help. The first batter Trombley faced, Scott Brosius, drilled a hanging curveball over the left-field fence in the Yankees' 2-1 victory.

It might have been the most satisfying no-decision of Johnson's career.

Remember the last time he faced New York? Relieving Sidney Ponson on July 6, he was charged with five earned runs (six total) in two innings. Three Yankees took him deep. Manager Mike Hargrove took him off the 25-man roster, with Johnson being sent to Triple-A Rochester the next day.

Yesterday, Johnson retired nine of the first 10 batters, 12 of 14 and 18 of 22. He didn't issue a walk.

"He was good with everything," Hargrove said. "His velocity was good, he located his fastball well, he had a good changeup and curveball. He threw the ball very well.

"We needed a big effort out of our starter today and Jason provided that for us."

Making room for Ponson

The Orioles will need to make another roster move when Ponson is activated before Wednesday's start against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It took two appearances for Josh Towers to make a strong argument against returning to Triple-A Rochester.

Towers was perfect in 1 1/3 innings Friday, leaving the bases loaded in the eighth inning after inheriting a two-out jam. His major-league debut came two nights earlier when he offered 1 1/3 innings of one-hit relief.

This has been a new role for Towers, who's more accustomed to starting. He was targeted for long relief upon being called up on April 28, but his opportunities haven't come until later in the games.

"It's been a lot different than what I'm used to," he said. "I've only pitched 2 2/3 innings so far. The more innings you've thrown, the more you're tested and the more you've got to prove what you're all about. But I think I can pitch at this level. I went up through the ranks and did OK, and now I'm here. I think I belong."

When Ponson is activated, the Orioles could return outfielder Eugene Kingsale to Rochester or send down left-hander B. J. Ryan, with Chuck McElroy filling his role in the bullpen.

Towers throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. He experimented with a curveball in spring training, but couldn't get enough consistency with it to satisfy him.

His best fastball tops out at 91 mph, but that might happen only twice a game. It's usually 87-88, which won't dazzle scouts but also hasn't prevented him from posting a winning record in all five of his professional seasons.

"I think I've showed them already, which is how I got here, that what I've got is good enough to pitch at this level," he said.

Segui closer to return

First baseman David Segui, who was examined by a doctor on Saturday and given approval to participate in pre-game drills, hit on the field for the first time yesterday but isn't certain when he'll come off the disabled list. He can be activated tomorrow when the Orioles begin a three-game series at Tropicana Field, where his injury occurred and his hot streak was interrupted.

Segui hasn't played since Devil Rays shortstop Felix Martinez stepped on his left hand while turning a double play April 22. He went 7-for-12 in the series to raise his average from .167 to .271.

"He's doing well. If he's ready, he'll come off [tomorrow]," Hargrove said.

Segui hit some soft tosses in the indoor cage Saturday and took about eight swings yesterday during batting practice.

"As soon as I can get in a decent amount of work, I'll know," said Segui, who estimated his grip strength at 60-70 percent.

Change for the better

Buddy Groom's ERA was lowered yesterday without him leaving the clubhouse.

A scoring change from Friday night's game removed an earned run from his line. A review of the seventh inning, when the Yankees scored twice for a 5-5 tie, determined that the second run should have been unearned because a throwing error by right fielder Brady Anderson allowed Bernie Williams to move up to second after his run-scoring single.

The next batter, Tino Martinez, grounded to second baseman Jerry Hairston. Major League Baseball rules state the out could be assumed at second, where the Orioles would have gone for the force if Williams hadn't advanced on Anderson's throw. Posada's double scored Williams with the disputed run.

Groom still is left with a blown save. He's been scored upon in only two of 12 outings after tossing a perfect ninth inning yesterday and taking a little more off his ERA.

Around the horn

This was the Yankees' first four-game sweep in Baltimore since July 11-14, 1996. ...Tomorrow's 7:05 p.m. game against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field has been added to Comcast SportsNet's schedule.

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