ARLINGTON, Texas - Unless Joe Saunders steps on a nail on his way to Rangers Ballpark on Friday, Steve Johnson will be sitting in the Orioles' bullpen at first pitch.
Johnson said he's ready to help out in a relief role. No pain in his left knee and no hard feelings over being passed over for Saunders.
"Disappointed wouldn't be the right word," he said. "It was great to at least be considered. It means a lot to me. But Joe's getting them out and he's going to do a great job. I'm there if they need me for anything, the bullpen or whatever. I've kind of been that guy all year, so maybe it was a better fit for me to be the long guy since I've been there before.
"I'm fine with it. Joe's going to do a great job. We're all behind him. And obviously, anything Buck (Showalter) decides, we're all behind him, so it's all good."
Johnson is wearing a brace on his left knee for better support. He threw a light bullpen session on Wednesday to test it and fielded his position without any restrictions.
"The knee's good," Johnson said. "I've had no issues with it. I'm ready to go."
Saunders said being named the starter is "a huge opportunity."
"It's been a blessing since I got traded over here and it's been an amazing experience coming over to a great organization and a great team that they have in place," he said. "Just going to embrace it, not change anything and go out there and hopefully get a W."
Saunders didn't know about his assignment until a few minutes before Showalter walked into the interview room at 3 p.m.
"It was just one of those decisions where I do have some playoff experience and I'm just going to go out there and do my thing," he said.
Asked about his past experiences in Arlington, Saunders ignored the cumulative numbers and said, "It's been a see-saw kind of deal. I've had some good games here and I've had some bad games here. Everybody has good games and bad games in certain ballparks. Just go out there and do whatever you can to help the team win, and that's what they asked me to do. That's my job."
Saunders, who grew up in Virginia, has a chance to give the Orioles their first playoff win since 1997.
"It would be really nice to get a win for the club and get a playoff game back home," he said. "I think that's what this organization is asking me to do and this is what the fans want us to do. If we can do that, I think the Oriole nation will be pretty happy with us.
"Obviously, the Rangers have a pretty potent lineup. I've faced them in the past a few years ago, and you've just got to go out there and make pitches. Our defense speaks for itself and our offense speaks for itself, too. If I can keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance to win, I think we'll be just fine."
Is Saunders a different pitcher since he last faced the Rangers?
"I don't think so. I don't think I've really changed anything," he replied. "I think you live and you learn every game. You try to get better every time out there. I think I'm the same guy."
Saunders said he's noticed a "never give up, never say die" attitude with the Orioles. It should come handy on Friday.
"I think that's what makes this club great," Saunders said. "Our extra-innings record speaks for itself. We're not afraid to throw everything we have out there, and this team is special in that fact. It's a great clubhouse and a great bunch of dudes and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Adam Jones is viewing Friday night's game as No. 163, though it's not part of the regular season.
"Tomorrow's do or die, pretty much," he said. "Win or go home."
Actually, the Orioles will head to Baltimore no matter what happens. If they beat the Rangers on Friday, they host the first two games of the Division Series against the Yankees beginning on Sunday.
Did Jones imagine after leaving Camden Yards on Sunday that the Orioles would be playing a wild card game against the Rangers?
"Honestly, I don't think most people thought Oakland was going to come back and beat them," he said. "They were up by five or six with a week to go, and Oakland did a tremendous job coming back against them. They handled their business and changed scenarios. That's part of it. It's just part of how it's supposed to go, I guess."
The Orioles haven't faced Yu Darvish, and all the video in the world won't duplicate standing in the batters box against him.
"What you've heard and what you've seen, if it's like that, you guys can go out and hit him, too," Jones said. "You can see he throws 94, 95, he throws cutters, sliders, curveballs. He can spot up on you. He's a big guy. I saw him at the All-Star Game this year. Big guy. And I don't think any hitter has seen how the ball comes out of his hand. I think that's the first thing is the first time going through the lineup and seeing how the ball's coming out of his hand, how's his movement, and relaying information to everybody so we can try to build a scouting report on him as the game is going on."
Programming note: MASN is airing "O's Xtra: Playoff Preview" tonight at 7 p.m., with a rebroadcast at 10 p.m. Before Friday's game, an expanded, hour-long edition of "O's Xtra" will air beginning at 7 p.m. on MASN. Once the game is over, the "O's Xtra" crew will convene for an hour of postgame analysis.