Whenever Bowie Baysox pitcher Steve Johnson has a bad game, he first gets his lessons from his coaches down at the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate.
Then he gets to go home, and get schooled by his dad, current Orioles broadcaster and former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson, who we know from listening to him on the pre-and post-game shows, has his two cents to give often.
But the younger Johnson actually appreciates the advice his dad gives him, and he has for several years pitching in the Baltimore area.
“It’s actually helped,” Steve Johnson told Drew Forrester Wednesday on “The Morning Reaction“. “It’s always something you can go back to and say, ‘what am I doing wrong?’ And luckily, he’s been able to see me pitch a couple times lately. And we really have been talking about what I’ve been doing.”
Johnson, who came over to the Orioles from the Dodgers in the George Sherrill trade last year along with third baseman Josh Bell, is currently 3-5 down at Bowie with a 5.57 ERA for the Baysox.
He has started 16 games, holding batters to a .241 batting average in 82 innings of work while fanning 75 at the plate. So what exactly has been Johnson’s problem this year?
Johnson was quick to point out his issue. His dad, who spent parts of five seasons in the majors between the O’s, Pirates and Tigers, has been there to let him know about it. And his coaches have let it be known to the younger Johnson.
Walks-he has issued 48 free passes this spring-combined with some untimely hits have ballooned Johnson’s ERA to 5.57. Johnson knows that he is a funk right now, and he is working hard to get himself out of it.
“It’s a bit frustrating,” Johnson said. “It’s something that started this season right out of the gate. In spring training, I felt like it wasn’t there and the feel wasn’t where it needed to be.”
“I’ve been trying to find it the whole season, even when I was pitching good games. It still hasn’t felt like I am releasing the ball where I should.”
But rest assured, his confidence level and his faith in his ability to work through it has never been stronger.
“I’m working on it. I’ve been working on the side. I’ve just been in a funk, but I’ll get out of it.”
Iit been frustrating for Johnson, who has consistently pitched for extended innings for the Baysox and left the opposing teams scraping for hits; it’s just the bases-on-balls combined with untimely home runs have Johnson in a rut.
“That’s the most frustrating part. It’s when you give up eight runs and you only give up four hits doing it. That means you’re not putting the ball over the plate and making them hit the ball. And they’re hitting the ball in some bad situations. I’ve had a couple grand slams. It’s just been a couple situations where I shouldn’t have been in.”
Johnson also knows that it’s beneath a pitcher of his promise to allow those mistakes to happen; it’s just him making some unwanted mental lapses in his concentration and approach on the mound.
“I should have just thrown the ball over the plate, and made them hit it. It sounds really easy, but I’m trying to do it. When you’re throwing a lot of balls, and you finally throw one strike, you’re in for it.
Johnson does feel a little more comfortable with himself on the mound as of late, especially after pitching five strong innings against Akron on July 3.
He did walk five, but he said he tried his best to not over pitch and wanted to trust his defense behind him to do the trick. He bounced back from two straight starts where he gave up six runs in each of his appearances.
“It’s something I’m working on. I feel a little more comfortable now than a couple starts ago. There’s progress there. I know what I need to do. I understand what I need to do now, and it’s just going out there and doing it.”
And this is actually maybe what the Orioles want to see out of Johnson. Andy MacPhail may want to see how the younger Johnson deals with adversity and struggles, and observe how he rebounds from those problems.
And Johnson hasn’t had a lot of those in his prep and early minor league career. He was born here in Baltimore with his dad pitching for the Orioles at the time, and he played his high school ball at St. Paul’s School for Boys.
During his prep career at St. Paul’s, he was an integral piece of St. Paul’s two MIAA ‘A‘ Conference titles in 2002 and 2003. He also threw two no-hitters in his senior year, and earned himself a scholarship to Boston College before signing with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers took Johnson in the 13th round of the 2005 amateur draft, and became one of LA’s top 20 prospects in the organization. When the O’s shipped closer George Sherrill to the Dodgers last year, they grabbed Bell, one of their top prospects, and brought Johnson back to his dad and the Baltimore area.
And the word is out on him apparently; as the Giants grabbed Johnson in this year’s Rule 5 draft, but with the Giants having to leave Johnson on the 25-man roster all season in order to retain his rights, they returned him back to the O’s for cash.
And knowing that the Orioles gave up a closer who made it to an All-Star game and money for him, Steve Johnson knows that they are going to expect a lot out of him, but he also has heard from Andy MacPhail and the parent club that they are going to give him all the time he needs to work out his mechanics so he is ready to face the best lineups in the major leagues.
“I know that if I have a bad year, I need to come back the next year and prove what I can do.”
“Whether it’s at the end of this year or if it takes next year to do it, you put up numbers and they’re going to have to do something with you. If not this year, I’ll do it next year. I’m not too worried about what they’re going to do with me.”
Watch Steve Johnson walk the same path his father did 20 years ago on the station that Never Stops Talking Baltimore Sports…We are WNST and WNST.net!