Hearing from Steve Johnson and LJ Hoes (McLouth update)

The Orioles could announce outfielder Nate McLouth’s signing later today. He’s scheduled to take his physical and it depends when the club gets the results.

McLouth agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal at the Winter Meetings that includes a possible $500,000 in bonuses.

“I think he deserves it,” said Nick Markakis. “What he did for us in the second half ever since he got here. He did what he was supposed to do. A guy like that, a guy with his talent, is always good to have.”

Markakis met briefly with reporters yesterday before leaving Dave & Busters at Arundel Mills Mall, where the Orioles held their annual OriolesREACH Holiday Party for Kids. Earlier in the day, pitcher Steve Johnson and outfielder LJ Hoes, two of the locals in the organization, talked about the area fans’ enthusiasm for the Orioles in comparison to past winters.

Is there more of a buzz?

Steve Johnson Throws white.jpg“Oh, yeah, definitely,” said Johnson, who was 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 outings, with 46 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. “Going to the Ravens games, I get recognized here and there, and they’re just excited for next year. That’s what everyone says. And being from here and knowing what the last 14 years have been like, to have the fans kind of have our backs and be excited for next season, that’s going to make for a fun start to next year, and hopefully the whole year.”

“Oh, definitely,” Hoes said. “Sometimes, when I go out to eat now, I just overhear people talking about the Orioles and how much they can’t wait for next season. Or some people might see me and be like, ‘Oh, you played for the Orioles. We’re so proud of you guys, we’re so glad for you guys. We can’t wait for next year to support the team.’ Stuff like that. It’s definitely been a great thing for the area, us winning and also the Nationals winning. Baseball is coming back around here.”

Johnson and Hoes could be teammates at Triple-A Norfolk in April. It depends whether Johnson can beat out a host of competitors for a spot in the rotation or bullpen, and whether Hoes somehow earns a job as an extra outfielder - a much longer shot.

Johnson tunes out talk that executive vice president Dan Duquette is seeking a veteran starter.

“I know I’m just going to have to go through spring training and fight for a spot anyway,” he said. “There were a lot of guys last year, so I know what it’s going to be like. They’re going to bring a lot of guys and we’re all going to be fighting for a spot. Makes it more fun, makes it competitive. I know what I did last year gave me some confidence, so I’ll just go in with that same confidence and hopefully have a good spring.

“I worked hard to get where I was last year, and it’s not over yet for me. Getting to the big leagues was a goal, and when you get there, you want to stay there. My goals have changed. I worked really hard, and getting the corner locker (in Sarasota) was like starting at the low levels in the minors. It’s the way it is and you’ve got to work your way up and I did that, but I don’t want to be one and done, so I’m going to work hard and stay there.

“You always want competition. It makes you work harder. Sometimes it’s nice to earn your way and have a starting gig or a bullpen gig, but when you don’t have it, you know you have to work hard. You’ve always got to work hard. Just having to compete, and knowing a lot of the guys, knowing what they did last year and knowing they want to compete for different jobs, that’s what’s going to make spring training fun. That’s what it’s all about. You’re always competing, whether it’s the season or spring training or the offseason. We all know each other, we all know we’re going to work hard and we all know we’re going to bring 100 percent.”

Hoes appeared in two games with the Orioles and had one at-bat after joining the expanded roster. That’s not a cup of coffee. That’s a shot of espresso.

“It was tremendous,” he said. “Just being from the area, seeing what the Orioles have come from and how good they used to be. I’ve seen their struggles, and getting back this year to what they used to be, getting back to a great team and being able to have the opportunity to join them in September and being there for the playoff push, being around that atmosphere, it was definitely a good thing.”

What did he learn?

“Just the daily approach those guys had,” Hoes replied. “They are always, even when they are joking around, they are still serious. They play hard and the big leagues is a job. You’ve got to go out there and be ready to play and make sure you’re ready to contribute. You never know when your name’s going to be called. You know, being focused every day and learning the ins and outs of baseball.”

Hoes has been moved from second base to the outfield since the Orioles chose him in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. Do their future defensive plans include keeping him there?

“I have no clue,” Hoes said. “I’m just going to go out there and play, wherever they tell me to play. I’m just going to go out there and try to do my best, whether it be left, center, right, second base. Just try to go out there and compete and help the team win wherever I’m at.”

Hoes batted .300/.374/.397 with 14 doubles, four triples, three homers and 38 RBIs in 82 games after being promoted to from Double-A Bowie to Norfolk, and he was named winner of the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year Award. He’ll report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex in February with the intent of “just going out there and just trying to make myself better,” he said.

“I’m going to be around Adam Jones and Markakis, and Nate’s back and Lew (Ford) is back. Those are guys I played with during the season. So just go out there and pick their brain. Hopefully, I can learn some things that can help me out, whether I’m competing for a job or I’m trying to get better for the spring or anytime when they might need me.”

Note: McLouth began taking his physical today, but it won’t be completed in time for the signing to become official before Thursday. Hope you didn’t plan your entire day around it.

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