PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Steve Johnson lost home plate today. Now, he must hope that he didn't lose his chance to break camp with the Orioles.
Johnson walked three straight batters and gave up a three-run double to Evan Longoria in the bottom of the third inning. He had retired eight in a row and was cruising along until his start unraveled.
"I'm not real sure what happened," he said. "I felt like I battled that first walk. I was a little up, but it happens. I tried to go out of the stretch and I just couldn't get in sync. I was a little out of sync for two batters and that led to two more walks.
"I threw some close pitches, but you can't really get yourself in that situation to leave it up to the ump. Obviously, I was all over the place and I'm not going to get anything close. I had to battle and I didn't do too well.
"It's just very frustrating. I go from having a pretty decent out, cruising along, and three batters kind of screw it up."
Johnson had tossed four scoreless innings in his previous start while vying for the fifth starter's job. Any glitch can prove costly, especially after Jake Arrieta threw six scoreless innings last night with nine strikeouts.
"You want to have good outings all the time, and especially now," Johnson said. "It's kind of crunch time. You don't want to have anything happen like this, especially a couple batters in a row."
Johnson threw 37 pitches in the third inning. He came back out for the fourth and gave up a two-out single to Jose Molina on a ball that slammed off the left-field fence, but he otherwise got quick outs.
"Anytime you throw that many pitches in an inning, you start to kind of tire," Johnson said. "It's just really frustrating. I was cruising, I felt good and it just didn't work out that inning.
Longoria is the wrong player to bring up with the bases loaded.
"It really didn't matter who it was," Johnson said. "He can hurt you more than maybe some other guys, but you can't put yourself in that situation, especially with two outs and two strikes on the batter. If you don't get that guy, you've got to get the next guy, or at least make him put it in play. I felt that when I did throw strikes today, they weren't really hitting me well. Maybe one or two hard-hit balls. But I know when I throw strikes, I can be effective. Walking guys is something I can't allow myself to do.
"Three batters I let get away from me. It sucks and it sucks that it resulted in three runs, but it happens and I came back and battled and got a quick next inning. Hopefully, I get another outing and show that was a fluke."
Update: Jair Jurrjens finished the Rays off with five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out three, to help the Orioles close a 6-3 victory.