There was little to celebrate in the Orioles’ 4-0 loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers, but Sunday will go down as a day rookie pitcher Steve Johnson will never forget.
The local product and son of former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson made his major league debut as the Johnsons became the sixth father-son duo to play for the club over its 59-year history. He entered the game to loud cheers in the eighth with the Orioles trailing 3-0.
“When they said I was finally in the game, my heart started pounding,” Johnson said about entering in the eighth inning. “It was just nice to be out there and have the fans get behind me that inning.”
Johnson pitched two innings and allowed a solo home run to Miguel Cabrera on a changeup in the ninth, but the right-hander will never forget walking off the mound to end his first inning of work in the big leagues. After struggling with his control while walking the first two batters he faced, Johnson escaped trouble by collecting two strikeouts to leave the runners stranded and walked to the dugout to a thunderous ovation.
With father Dave and other friends and family watching his debut, it was a special moment in an otherwise lackluster day for the Orioles before 30,439 at Camden Yards.
“Just walking off the field in the eighth inning, getting the strikeout and getting out of that jam — having the fans get behind me — that was a pretty special moment,” Johnson said. “That is something I’ll take with me.”
The home run by Cabrera was the only hit allowed by Johnson as he struck out two and walked two over his 47-pitch outing.
Facing a roster crunch in needing to clear spots for starting pitchers in each of their next three games against the Minnesota Twins, the Orioles predictably optioned Johnson to Triple-A Norfolk following the game. However, Johnson appeared to leave a good impression with manager Buck Showalter, who was happy to see the young pitcher receive such a warm welcome in his hometown.
“I thought he threw the ball pretty well as soon as he got his feet on the ground there,” Showalter said. “This is a guy who — if you throw out Norfolk last year — had as good numbers as you want to see in Bowie [last year] and Norfolk this year if you look at the hits-to-innings and the strikeouts. He’s got a good feel for pitching just like his dad.”
Before talking with reporters after the game, Johnson briefly met with his father, who was repeatedly shown on the MASN telecast during the two-inning stint. Pitching for the Orioles brought Steve back to his early childhood with spotty memories of watching his father pitch at Memorial Stadium.
“He said congrats. [There] probably will be a little hugging a little later, but he just shook my hand and said you pitched well.”