In considering the Orioles’ remarkable season and the myriad unsung contributors that the club has rescued from the minors, it’s easy to point to Miguel Gonzalez, who was pitching in Mexico, and Lew Ford, who was playing in the Atlantic League, and Nate McLouth, who was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But maybe the one who has been overlooked the most is the kid from Baltimore, the one right under our noses the whole time, the one whose dad works for the Orioles’ TV network.
Steve Johnson (3-0) won again Tuesday night, entering the game in the fourth with little warning after Jason Hammel had to leave due to a knee injury.
He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, including a big strikeout of Ben Francisco with two on and two out in the fourth.
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“Obviously, you want to get out of that inning with that guy on. I was able to do that,” Johnson said. “I struggled a little bit with the first batter. I didn’t have a couple pitches working today. I don’t know if it was because I had to get ready kind of quick or I just wasn’t loose. I don’t know. But the curveball really wasn’t there. I was able to make a couple pitches with the fastball.”
Johnson, a St. Paul’s graduate and the 25-year-old son of former Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson, has been just short of spectacular as a reliever: 10 1/3 innings pitched, five hits, four walks, two earned runs (1.74 ERA) and 13 strikeouts.
He’s also done exceptionally well as a spot starter, going 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts. Frankly, he’s been an afterthought in the organization since not long after he was acquired with Josh Bell in the George Sherrill deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He was left off the 40-man roster and was made available to other teams as a Rule 5 pick in 2009, 2010 and 20111 (he was selected by the San Francisco Giants in 2009, but sent back).
He signed a minor league deal this past winter (after excelling at Double-A Bowie but posting a 5.56 ERA in 17 starts at Norfolk), instead of going elsewhere. It seemed like a curious move for both parties.
And yet it has worked out perfectly. Even though he’s had to endure the Norfolk shuttle several times.
“He comes from a good pedigree and he's been in this ballpark many times, and obviously his dad's been a source of reality and pitching,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “He understands what the job description is here, and he went down to Norfolk and did it and got the opportunity and didn't miss the chance. We have some people capable of helping us withstand some early exits that we've had."
First, this story was local kid makes good. Now it’s local team really needs versatile local kid.