S. Johnson aiming to "go out and prove I'm healthy and ready to go"

The Orioles are expected to announce more minor league signings this week, including former Nationals prospect Chris Marrero. They're also in the process of finalizing a deal with infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr.

The first person to use the stale "start printing those World Series tickets" line gets coal in his stocking.

Camden Yards has become a popular gathering spot for pitchers and position players to work out during the offseason. The Orioles scatter in the winter, but they always seem to find their way home.

Pitcher Steve Johnson has a much shorter trip. The St. Paul's grad is averaging four days a week as he attempts to make the club out of spring training next year.

"It's been really good," he said yesterday while attending the Orioles annual holiday party for kids at Arundel Mills Mall. "I've been doing it for about two months now. I'm getting stronger. The weight is not an issue. I'd like to lose a little more before spring training, but I'm getting stronger, so I'm not really worried about it."

Johnson was slow to start a conditioning program last winter after injuring his left knee during his final appearance on Sept. 29, 2012 against the Red Sox. He suffered an oblique strain near the end of spring training this year and was included in the final cuts.

These workouts are "more about building and being a lot stronger for next season," he said, "so that hopefully, if that was related in any way to me getting injured, that doesn't happen again."

Johnson, who works out with Joe Hogerty and Ryan Crotin at Camden Yards, was undergoing physical therapy on his knee last winter, "so it was very limited when I could start out, and by the time I was ready to work out, they had already moved to spring training to get ready for that, so it was a little tougher," he said.

"I don't think they had as scheduled of a workout last year, so, I'm in there now. I'm in there every day. They're getting me a lot stronger for next season."

Johnson was 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 appearances (four starts) as a rookie in 2012, but slipped to 1-1 with a 7.47 ERA in nine appearances (one start) this season - with 13 walks and 20 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. He went 2-3 with a 4.11 ERA in 10 appearances (eight starts) at Triple-A Norfolk, with 17 walks and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings.

The Orioles currently have an opening in their rotation, though they're trying to add a veteran innings-eater for the top half. Johnson, 26, will compete for a spot, but would gladly settle for a long relief role. Anything to stay in the majors.

"It's just going in there earning a spot, showing them how I've worked out in the offseason to get where I am," he said. "You never know what can happen. Obviously, I know they're going to sign some guys. They always sign a lot of depth. Spring training will have a lot of competition, obviously, even with the guys already on the team. It's always a tough battle, just like last year.

"Hopefully I can do a little bit better, I know a little bit more what I have to do because I had last year. So, just go out and prove I'm healthy and ready to go."

Johnson has a minor league option remaining - unlike Zach Britton, Josh Stinson and Brian Matusz, among others - and it's liable to work against him. The Orioles can send him down without the waiver process and call him up later in the summer.

"Obviously, I'm hoping to be good enough to be able to earn a spot even with the option," he said. "It's something you don't really think about unless you have to, I guess. But yeah, they have some guys without options and I'm just hoping to be able to earn it outright."

No Oriole is allowed past the media without being asked about the Jim Johnson trade.

This just in: They're not celebrating it.

"Obviously, letting Jim go is tougher than seeing other names go off the board," said Steve Johnson. "That was a rough one because you know it's a business and they've got to do some things to make the team better. Jim was a good friend of mine. He kind of took me under his wing when I got called up and made me feel comfortable being on the team, so it's always tough to lose someone like that. At the same time, you know they are doing it for a reason. You have faith that they're going to put the best team out there that they can for this year.

"Whoever they end up signing will be the guys that they want. I'm just hoping to be on the team when all is said and done, and I'm hoping, even if it's not right away, that I can come up at some point and compete for a spot."

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