- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

A June 20 start was a pretty familiar one for Class AA Bowie pitcher James Johnson.

After a rocky first inning in which New Britain scored three runs without hitting a ball hard, Johnson settled in and, a bases loaded jam notwithstanding, cruised through the next six innings without allowing a run.

“It was a standard-issue start it seems,” Johnson said. “A rough first inning, give up a couple runs and we’re fighting to stay in the game after that. It is a little bit frustrating at times.”

While Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn have moved through the Orioles system quicker and garnered more publicity in the process, Johnson has had as much or more minor league success. Named an Eastern League all-star yesterday, the right-handed Johnson is 7-3 with a 3.76 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 882/3 innings for the Baysox.

After pitching all but one start last year at Class A Frederick, he was named the organization’s pitcher of the year after leading all Baltimore farmhands with 174 strikeouts and pitching in the Futures Game. Listed at 6-foot-5, Johnson doesn’t blow hitters away but does throw in the low 90s and complements his fastball with a big league curveball and developing changeup.

Johnson has steadily developed into one of the Orioles’ top pitching prospects, and the way he bounced back from the first inning is one of the biggest reasons for his progress.

“Really, I don’t think you can say he has to do this one thing and he will be a big league pitcher,” Bowie pitching coach Scott McGregor said. “It is the maturation period of learning the game and handling the ups and downs is a big part of it. The biggest thing I have seen Jimmy do over the past couple of years is handle games like [the one against New Britain] much better.

“He wasn’t happy about it, but he took a step off the mound, regrouped, came in and sat down and didn’t throw anything. And I am just going, ‘OK, he is starting to get it.’”

The process may have taken a little longer than he expected. When Johnson was selected in the fifth round of the 2001 draft, he was getting ready for a New York high school state playoff game. After his team completed a state championship run, Johnson finished the year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.

For the next two years, Johnson only pitched for Bluefield in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He spent the first half of each season at extended spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“It’s pretty much the most brutal thing anybody can go through,” Johnson said. “It’s extended spring training and it is pretty much miserable. The best way to describe it is it’s like playing baseball in a sauna for 90 days straight. It really isn’t that much fun.”

Finally, after beginning the 2004 season in extended spring training — but not because of a bout with mononucleosis as it had been previously reported — Johnson was sent to Class A Delmarva and has been very successful getting hitters out for full-season clubs ever since.

“Jimmy has all the pitches,” McGregor said. “He’s ready to go. I told [Baltimore executive vice president Mike] Flanagan the other day that he is ready for you whenever you need him.”

By the time Johnson reaches Baltimore, hopefully people will know what to refer to him as. He has heard James, J.J., Jim and Jimmy during his time in the minors.

“I owe it all to Rawlings. The first time they made me a glove it said J.J.,” Johnson said. “Actually, they sent me one that said James Johnson, but it was for another James who was with the Red Sox. He is left-handed, so he had mine and after we switched it said J.J. Johnson. People called me J.J. and I said whatever, that’s fine.

“Then my next glove I got this year and the guy said, ‘Do you want your name on your glove?’ I said yeah, and apparently the guy had talked to my agent and he said one of his clients was Jimmy Johnson. So they put Jimmy on the glove. But it is James. James is fine. Keep it simple.”

Notes — Johnson will be joined by Baysox right-hander Marino Salas and outfielder Cory Keylor in the Eastern League all-star game at Altoona on July 12. Four Harrisburg Senators — third baseman/outfielder Kory Casto, shortstop Melvin Dorta, catcher Salomon Manriquez and right-hander Kip Bouknight — also were selected to the Southern Division squad. …

Because of flooding on City Island in Harrisburg, the Senators will play a doubleheader against the Baysox at Prince George’s Stadium tomorrow instead of scheduled home games tonight and tomorrow night.

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