Former Orioles pitcher Steve Johnson signs with Rangers

Former Orioles pitcher Steve Johnson, the local product who made his major league debut four years ago at Camden Yards, has signed a minor league deal with the Rangers that includes an invitation to spring training.

The Orioles designated Johnson for assignment on Dec. 2 while making a flurry of roster moves at the deadline to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. They needed to create a spot for left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser on the 40-man roster.

Johnson, 28, allowed six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings over six games with the Orioles last season after having his contract selected in Sept. He’s 5-1 with a 4.25 ERA in 27 major league games, including five starts.

Recovered from surgery on his right shoulder in Sept. 2014, the St. Paul’s graduate went 4-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 32 games last season at Triple-A Norfolk and averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

Due to his service time, Johnson could refuse an outright assignment and become a free agent. He drew interest from several teams before choosing the Rangers, whose Triple-A affiliate is in Round Rock.

Steve Johnson Throws white.jpg“It happened really quick,” said Johnson, the son of former Orioles pitcher and current MASN analyst Dave Johnson. “We were just waiting on a couple teams to get back to us, and my agent (Darak Braunecker) let me know today. He said everything’s good to go.”

Johnson pitched two innings in relief in his major league debut against the Tigers on July 15, 2012. His first start came on Aug. 8 against the Mariners, and he struck out nine batters and allowed two runs over six innings for his first win.

The Orioles included Johnson on their postseason roster for the wild card game in Texas and he warmed up in the first inning as starter Joe Saunders began to struggle.

“Obviously, to have the opportunity to play for my hometown team the last several years was awesome, to be able to get the opportunity to play at the highest level and make the playoffs,” he said. “It was an unreal experience, especially in my debut year. But I’m excited to have a fresh start in a new place.

“It’s all going to be new to me, just because I’m so used to being home or close to it, but I’m really excited for it.”

Johnson may have to pitch in the Pacific Coast League, with its hitter-friendly ballparks, but he’s up to the challenge.

“This will all be new to me - new places, new teams,” said Johnson, traded by the Dodgers to the Orioles with third baseman Josh Bell on July 30, 2009 for reliever George Sherrill.

“I’m hoping to get the opportunity to pitch well enough in spring training to break out of camp. I might have to go to the Pacific Coast League, but I’ll do what I’ve done the last couple years and try to work my way up.”

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