After mechanical adjustment, Steve Johnson is excited for the new season

For pitcher Steve Johnson, it had to be frustrating and confusing and a little difficult to deal with.

First, he was traded to the Orioles, his hometown team as a kid from Baltimore, and that was exciting. Then, after the trade with the Dodgers, he pitched to a 2.84 ERA over seven starts with Double-A Bowie late in the 2009 season.

Then he comes out in 2010, with the same club and halfway through the year is 3-6 with an ERA of 6.14 over 17 starts.


“I can deal with getting hit around a little bit, but the fact was that I was walking guys and then giving up some home runs,” Johnson said. “I could give up two solo shots a game and still be fine, but the walks and getting behind in the count was frustrating. I dealt with it, but it was a struggle. The overall season didn’t look good, I know that.

“This is a new year. I want to come back strong and last season won’t matter.”

Even though his results were better in 2009 (12-7, 3.41), good enough for the Giants to take him in the Rule 5 draft, Johnson feels his mechanics have been a little off over both of the past two seasons.

“I have had some struggles with that over the last two years really. I knew something was wrong and was trying everything possible, sometimes changing the wrong thing. Kennie (Steenstra, Bowie’s pitching coach) hadn’t seen me pitch before, so it was hard for him to find something wrong, when he hadn’t seen me when I was good.”

But Johnson did have someone close by that had seen him pitch often and knew his pitching motion better than anyone else. That’s his dad, former O’s pitcher Dave Johnson, a MASN broadcaster.

“He’s working (the O’s broadcasts) and doesn’t get to see me pitch all that much. I’ve always had good mechanics with his help,” Steve Johnson said. “But I got away from what I used to do. He saw me at one point last year and said ‘that’s not your mechanics.’ It’s hard for him to do much with me during the season and he doesn’t want to overstep his boundaries.

“But he helped me a lot this offseason. We went back to some tapes from earlier and found some things to get my arm into a comfortable motion and everything feels great now. When you throw strikes, anything can happen. I made some changes and this offseason was a success in that regard.”

Johnson said he used to have a quicker leg kick, something like what Mike Mussina did. When he slowed that down, it could throw his whole rhythm off. He also spent part of this winter dropping about 15 pounds and believes he will feel more comfortable pitching at around 210 lbs. this year.

During the 2008 season, Johnson walked 3.26 batters per every nine innings pitched. That number jumped to 4.84 last year and it was 5.29 during that rough first half.

The 23-year-old went 7-8 with a 5.09 ERA over 28 Baysox starts in 2010. He had a chance to make some of those mechanical adjustments at the All-Star break and then had an ERA of 3.60 over his final 11 Baysox starts.

The stat sheet is pretty clear last year for Johnson. The walks and homers were up during his rough first half and there were fewer of both during the better second half. Opponents hit .258 against him in the first half and .259 in the second, almost no difference, so the higher ERA was clearly a direct result of the control struggles of the first few months.

“I want to prove what I can do. I don’t think the Orioles have seen the real me,” he said. “I want to prove to them that I am a strike thrower and battler that can get keep deep into the game. I am looking forward to this year. It’s a big year for me. I am a free agent after this year. I’d love to stay here, but I have to pitch well.”

One stat that may surprise some fans is that Johnson led all O’s minor league hurlers in strikeouts last year with 128. He had 154 in 2009 between two organizations, more than O’s leader Jake Arrieta, who had 148 that season.

So there is a successful track record there for this right-hander, who said he gained a lot of confidence knowing a team that would go on to win the World Series, San Francisco, acquired him before last season.

As spring training begins, Johnson figures he may start the year where he ended the last one, but he begins with renewed confidence and improved mechanics, for a season where he’d like to push to see time in Norfolk and maybe even Baltimore as well.

“I always think I am going back to the team I ended with, whether I’ve had a good year or not. The trickle down effect, you don’t know what’s going to happen until players get pushed down from big league camp. I am going to guess (I start with) Bowie but you never know. I’m going in with an open mind,” he said.

Thanks!: Thanks to all the fans that came out for our chat last night at Hightopps Backstage Grille in Timonium. It was a great crowd that really knows O’s baseball and we had a super discussion about the team before we watched last night’s game on MASN.

I enjoyed meeting everyone. It was nice to once again see my new friend, seven year old Brandon and his parents, along with the guys from Towson University and my good friend Scott and his sons and girlfriend. Brandon, who walked away with a Matt Wieters bobblehead to add to his collection, can talk O’s as well as any of us, and is a special young fan! Look forward to doing it again and we’ll keep you posted.

Send me questions or comments and follow me on Twitter: @masnsteve.

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