Steve Johnson talks about learning the splitter

SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles' four-day mini-camp is reaching its conclusion.

A few pitchers, including Hunter Harvey and Tommy Hunter, left after yesterday's workout. Delmon Young took batting practice, met with manager Buck Showalter and appeared to make a favorable impression. Jack Cust arrived Tuesday and still can be found in the clubhouse.

The Orioles signed pitcher Luis Vizcaino and infielder Brock Bond to minor league contracts without invitations to spring training. They signed volatile reliever Alfredo Aceves to a minor league contract with an invite. They reached agreement with outfielder Tyler Colvin on a major league deal, which will be announced later today.

They checked on pitcher T.J. McFarland's right knee, which is fine. They watched Dylan Bundy play catch from 60 feet and envisioned how he could join them later this summer. They were encouraged by outfielder Nolan Reimold's recovery from a second neck surgery.

They never got to check Manny Machado's left knee, which will be examined today in Los Angeles. Machado still has a locker set up in the clubhouse with his nameplate above it. His chair remains empty.

The Orioles held tryouts for a new bullpen catcher and batting practice pitcher, and candidates were coming out of the woodwork.

The Colvin signing was rumored for a few days. It was known that the Orioles had reached agreement with an outfielder on a major league deal, pending the results of his physical. They wanted to keep it quiet, especially after the Grant Balfour debacle. And we knew that it wasn't one of the big fish in the free agent pond.

One member of the organization said the name wouldn't be as recognizable as Young's, which proved to be correct.

The mustache makes it easy to recognize former All-Star closer Bryan Harvey, who talked to Hunter and Steve Johnson about the splitter. He was in camp with his son, Hunter, having no idea that he'd be asked to serve as an instructor of sorts.

"I've been working on that pitch for the last couple of years," Johnson said. "It just hasn't been consistent enough for me to put into a game. I used it in Norfolk in my last start, kind of just trying to get it in a game somehow. It was OK. Just wasn't consistent."

Johnson met with pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, and an idea was born.

"I was talking with Wallace and Chiti and they suggested talking to (Bryan Harvey) about it because he's here and he had a really good one. So I wanted to do that and get any tips that he had on it," Johnson said.

"Not every grip works for everybody, but a few tips here and there could really help me. I think it could be a huge pitch for me. You see a guy like Koji (Uehara), someone with my deception, have that downward action with the split give a little deception the other way. If I can add that downward deception like a splitter has, it would be huge for me. And I have the fingers for it. It's real easy for me with my long fingers. I'm trying to add everything to get better, so I feel like I could take it to the next level."

"It was tough because he kind of wanted to see me throw it and I'm not really at that point yet to be there. He's just trying to give me as much as he could without actually seeing me throw it, which is tough. But we talked about a couple grips, and actually I hadn't seen that grip before. I'll try it out and see what works. You've got to feel comfortable. But it was just a couple tips. I've got to actually throw it.

"That's one of the things that's hard to do, when you have a grip that's kind of uncomfortable that you're not used to. But I just think if I can get that grip and get something comfortable and be able to throw it for a strike as well as locate it in the dirt, it's going to take my game to the next level. And I'm kind of at the point in my career where I need to take that next jump just to set myself apart. And I feel like that could be a pitch that could really help me."

Harvey may continue his tutelage next month at spring training.

"It's not a definite thing that he'll be there, but if you have a couple guys who are trying to get information from him, he might come down. Who knows?" Johnson said. "I just know that it helped talking to him for a couple minutes and getting a little tip for a grip and just a way of throwing it. Anything that he had to offer was good enough for me. And if he's able to come down, that's great.

"Maybe when I'm actually full force and throwing all of my pitches, it will be a little bit better time to get some tips. But I'm trying to take everything in right now and get everything I can from anyone who has anything to offer about it. I just think that if I can really kind of get that pitch and add it to my repertoire of pitches this season, it will help me."

Harvey was a two-time All-Star who saved 46 games and posted a 1.60 ERA with the Angels in 1991, and saved 45 games with a 1.70 ERA for the Marlins in 1993. He twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting.

Johnson is still learning about him. His father, former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson, had the same agent as Harvey and they briefly were in Angels camp together in 1992.

"I've never seen him pitch before," Steve Johnson said. "I was trying to look into it when I heard he had a good splitter, just asking my dad about it. I never really saw any video. I'd love to see the splitter, though. I'll try to dig up some videos and get an idea, but they said he had a really good one.

"It's not many times that you get somebody with a really good splitter who's in camp. It's not really a pitch that everyone has, so I'll take it."

MLB Network is premiering its new series, "My Most Memorable Game," by featuring Cal Ripken Jr. tonight at 9 p.m.

Ripken talks about the night that he broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played and his emotions leading up to it. Here's a sampling, with baseball's Iron Man showing his softer side:


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