J.J. more than OK in return

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre threw two interceptions last night.

Save it for the playoffs, Brett.

Nice outing by Jim Johnson last night in his first major league action since April 30.

Hard to believe it’s been that long.

Manager Buck Showalter found an opportune time to take Johnson for a test-drive, in the ninth inning with the Orioles holding a 5-0 lead.

The first batter reached on an infield hit, but Johnson didn’t allow another baserunner. Most impressive to me, his fastball was routinely clocked at 94 mph. No velocity issues with J.J., who was pounding the lower half of the strike zone.

Johnson still wants to be a starter. He doesn’t complain about it, but he also doesn’t hide it if you bother to ask him. But he was so valuable and dominant as a set-up man in 2008, the Orioles want to keep him in that role. And how many innings and pitches do you want to attach to that right elbow?

It’s always dicey to project the bullpen for 2011 without knowing who could sign as a free agent, but it would be nice to trust Johnson as the set-up man again while sorting through the closer candidates. Unless, of course, you view J.J. as a closer candidate. It hasn’t gone real well in the past, but he’s an option.

I’d be fine with Koji Uehara re-signing and taking over the ninth inning. Michael Gonzalez can back him up and also handle the late-inning lefty duties. David Hernandez can be used in the seventh or eighth - or both, since he isn’t limited to one inning - and Jason Berken can stop leading the league in appearances and wearing down.

Alfredo Simon would have to compete for a spot, and you can’t count out a guy who returned that quickly from Tommy John surgery. He’s obviously a fighter.

Here’s why I like Uehara: He throws strikes. No nibbling. He hasn’t issued a walk in his last 15 appearances. He’s walked five and struck out 31 in 28 innings this season.

While picking up another save Friday night, Uehara went 0-2 to the first two batters and retired them on fly balls to center - on a split and a slider. He went 0-1 on the next hitter before allowing a single and retired Torii Hunter on a 2-2 pitch.

Other bullpen candidates could come from Triple-A Norfolk, and we’ll soon find out whether Showalter will get an early look at a few of them in September. Troy Patton’s on the 40-man roster and should return. Dennis Sarfate is not, but he needs to come up here if the Orioles consider him a possibility for 2011.

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