- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

DETROIT It's a touchy subject, and one that Jason Johnson doesn't like to discuss, but on days like this, comparisons to last season are bound to come up.

The Baltimore Orioles right-hander had brushed aside all thoughts of last year's 1-10 nightmare through spring training and his first three starts of the season, showing new command of his pitches and new stability in his sometimes fragile psyche.

Neither Johnson nor Orioles manager Mike Hargrove could avoid the inevitable comparison yesterday afternoon, though, after the 27-year-old lasted just 2 2/3 innings in Baltimore's 8-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers.

Johnson, who gave up four runs and eight hits in the shortest outing by an Orioles starter this year, declined to discuss last season. Hargrove, while noticing some similarities between yesterday's outing and the majority of Johnson's 2000 starts, took the high road.

"I hesitate to compare it to last year. Last year's last year it's over," Hargrove said. "Obviously, the results were similar to last year. He just got hit, and that's going to happen. You make 34 starts, you're going to have three or four where you're going to get hammered around."

Johnson (1-2) says he has fallen into a "little rut." He began noticing a slight kink in his delivery during his last start against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and felt it again yesterday.

"Instead of being smooth like I was the first three starts, the last two I've been kind of jerky in my windup and trying to throw too hard," he said. "I'm just going to have to settle down and be a little more smooth like I was in Florida, and things will be OK."

The problem was obvious from the start yesterday. The first five Detroit batters all hit deep drives to the outfield: a leadoff home run by Jose Macias, a pair of long fly outs by Ryan Jackson and Bobby Higginson, a double to left-center by Tony Clark and a triple to right-center by Wendell Magee.

"He was up with everything and couldn't get his slow stuff over," Hargrove said. "He'd make a good pitch, and they'd foul it off. His location wasn't good today."

The Tigers, who snapped a seven-game losing streak and dashed Baltimore's hopes of reaching the .500 mark, never let up against Johnson. Three singles, a double and a walk in the third inning ended his day and put Detroit up 4-0.

Behind a strong long relief appearance by lefty B.J. Ryan (one run, no hits in 3 1/3 innings) and a brief sixth-inning rally, the Orioles were able to keep things close. With Mike Bordick on first, Delino DeShields lofted a fly ball between left fielder Higginson and center fielder Juan Encarnacion that turned into DeShields' second triple of the series and one of three hit yesterday.

DeShields scored on a passed ball to cut the deficit to 4-2, but Baltimore managed little more offense against Tigers right-hander Chris Holt (2-2), who tossed the fourth complete game of his career to end the Orioles' three-game winning streak.

Rookie reliever Jorge Julio, making his major league debut, couldn't keep the Orioles close, giving up three runs, two hits and two walks while committing an error in two-thirds of an inning. The 22-year-old right-hander, whom the club says has the stuff to become a closer someday, was overwhelmed in his first appearance above Class AA, allowing a bases-clearing triple by Encarnacion that ended up behind the flagpole some 435 feet away in deep left-center at Comerica Park.

"Julio came in and was obviously nervous," Hargrove said. "The guy normally throws the ball 95-97 mph, and I looked up there and it was 88-89. You run into that with young kids. I don't necessarily think that you can base a decision on one outing for anybody, but especially with a kid who's got the talent that he has."

The Venezuelan native, who had four saves and a 0.00 ERA in six games with the Bowie Baysox, was relieved, at the least, to get his first major league appearance out of the way.

"The second opportunity I get, I'm not going to come in the same way I did the first time," he said, through a interpreter.

Notes Holding true to his word, Hargrove sat third baseman Cal Ripken for the third time in six games yesterday. Hargrove had informed the 40-year-old All-Star that his playing time will be diminished to "two to five games a week." …

With the Baltimore bullpen stretched thin, left-hander Chuck McElroy made a brief, two-batter appearance in the eighth inning. McElroy will still start tomorrow night against Minnesota… .

First baseman David Segui missed his third straight game with a bruised left finger, the result of getting spiked Sunday against Tampa Bay. Hargrove said he wouldn't be surprised if Segui, who is day-to-day, is available to play this weekend in Minnesota.

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