Johnson to prep for return with stint in Sarasota


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson returned yesterday to the team's extended spring training headquarters in Sarasota, Fla., where he will pitch in at least two games before coming off the disabled list.

Johnson chipped a bone in his right middle finger on April 25, while simulating his pitching motion in a bullpen session and hitting his hand on the ground. He hoped to return within three weeks, but it will be closer to six weeks by the time he pitches for the Orioles again.

The plan is to have him throw on the side again tomorrow and then pitch three innings in an extended spring training game Monday. If all goes well, he will throw five innings later next week.

"Then we'll evaluate where he's at," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Hopefully, he'll be ready to come back."

If Johnson doesn't have a setback, he could return to the starting rotation sometime during the Orioles' series at Yankee Stadium, June 3-6.

The Orioles were counting on a big season from Johnson, but in four starts, he is 1-3 with a 5.48 ERA.

Steal lights brushfire

Oakland seemed upset with Orioles center fielder Chris Singleton for stealing second base with a 7-1 lead in the sixth inning yesterday. Athletics reliever Mike Magnante threw pitches that came close to hitting Tony Batista and Geronimo Gil before finally nailing Singleton to start the eighth inning.

Plate umpire Bruce Froemming ejected Magnante for his actions, and afterward Oakland manager Art Howe said, "The message was sent."

Hargrove, however, thought Singleton had every right to steal second. On Wednesday, Oakland led the Orioles 5-1 and had to hang on for a 7-6 victory.

"If that had been the seventh, eighth inning, we probably would have shut it down," Hargrove said. "This is a small ballpark. A lot of runs are scored here, and with the people they bring to the plate, they can score runs in a hurry.

"Given the same set of circumstances, I would do the same thing again, without a moment's hesitation. I certainly understand where Art's coming from, his ballclub's struggling, but we're just trying to get the win. It certainly was not intended as piling on."

After getting hit on the hip, Singleton came around to score on Marty Cordova's three-run homer later in the inning, giving the Orioles an 11-2 lead.

"That's what makes this a great game," Singleton said. "We were able to capitalize on it."

If the Orioles were just being good sports by not retaliating, they also know they have six more games against Oakland this season at Camden Yards.

Foster's surgery

Orioles minor-league pitcher Kris Foster underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow Wednesday and will be out 10 to 12 weeks.

Foster, who was obtained from the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Gil in a trade for reliever Mike Trombley, is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA at Triple-A Rochester.

Book-buying spree

The Orioles are buying 26,000 books for local first-graders with the help of a grant from the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation. The program will provide two books apiece for each of about 13,000 first-grade students in Baltimore City and Washington, D.C.

Around the horn

Orioles reserve outfielder Luis Garcia singled in the ninth inning for his first major-league hit. ... The Orioles signed Alex Arias to a minor-league contract last month, hoping to see if he could hit enough to become a utility player. In his first 15 games at Rochester, Arias hit .102 with five hits in his first 49 at-bats.

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