SARASOTA, Fla. - Now that Jake Arrieta has thrown 8 2/3 scoreless innings in his last two starts, Steve Johnson gets his chance today to complicate manager Buck Showalter's decision regarding the back end of the rotation.
Arrieta most likely has become the favorite for the job, though he's still prone to falling behind in the count. The Orioles need him to throw more strikes.
Johnson wasn't happy with his last Grapefruit League outing on March 5, when he allowed two runs and two hits in two innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. His fastball command was lacking.
The results were much better in Tuesday's intrasquad game. Johnson threw four scoreless innings, allowing only two hits.
"I felt really good," he said. "It was a good time to be able to work on everything, knowing you were going to get four innings and knowing they were going to stop you if you threw too many pitches. You're still out there competing, but I was able to throw my off-speed pitches in situations that, when you're competing, sometimes you choose not to. Behind-in-the-count sliders and 3-2 curveballs. Just situations like that. But I threw well. Gave up a couple hits, got a couple strikeouts, ended up not giving up any runs.
"My velocity was probably down. I could tell. But it was mainly about me controlling my fastball and I felt like I did that better than I have so far, so it was good."
Luckily for Johnson, the weather should be nicer today as the split-squad Orioles host the Minnesota Twins. He pitched in rainy and windy conditions on Tuesday.
"You're trying to get up and throw in a regular atmosphere," Johnson said. "It's an intrasquad game and you're facing guys you know and it's raining and cold and windy. Obviously, it's tough to get mentally prepared to go out and do that, but it was definitely good to get out there and I made a point to throw my fastball and I was able to locate it, so it was good."
Jason Hammel will start the other split-squad game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater. He's got to be considered the favorite to make the opening day start. We're still waiting for Showalter to reveal his choice.