"Basically, Johnson will take over the role that Albers had in the bullpen," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "He'll be the long guy. It gives us the opportunity to see what Albers does as a starter. We liked what we saw with Johnson in Spring Training. Today is his regular day to pitch. He was supposed to start today. He falls right on schedule."
Albers has pitched three times this season and has yet to allow a run, but he also hasn't pitched longer than three innings. The right-hander made 18 starts for the Astros last year and has impressed his new team with his ability to induce ground balls. Albers battled with Brian Burres all spring for a rotation slot, but Trembley opted to use him in relief.
"In Spring Training, I didn't see what I've seen once the season started," Trembley said. "Once the season started, I've seen this guy attack hitters, have movement and a very good breaking ball. Then I looked up and he had 18 starts in the big leagues last year [and] we're playing Toronto. That's primarily a right-handed hitting club, so let's give him a chance."
Albers hasn't thrown more than 44 pitches in any of his outings this season, but his history as a starter may allow him to throw as many as 75 pitches without a problem. Trembley said that he'd watch him carefully, though, opting to err on the side of caution. If Albers has a long inning at some early point of the game, Baltimore will be prepared.
"That's another reason we have Johnson here," said Trembley. "I think it would be a bit too much to ask to put Albers out there for the first time and expect that he's going to throw 100 pitches. I don't think that would beneficial to him in the long run."
Johnson has been promoted to the big leagues in each of the last two seasons, but he's only made a grand total of two appearances. The right-hander was starting at Triple-A Norfolk, but said it won't be much of an adjustment to move to the bullpen. Either way, Johnson wants to make an impression and perhaps stick around a little longer.
"Anytime you come up here, it's a good opportunity," said the former fifth-round Draft pick. "This time, I hope I stick. I'll just play it by ear, keep pitching and try to stay up here as long as I can."
Johnson went on to say that he's been guilty at times of trying to be too perfect. Now he knows that he just has to hit his spots and do what's worked for him in the Minor Leagues to have success at the next level. Johnson did make one mechanical tweak this winter, though, and he said it's helped him sharpen his repertoire.
"I think the biggest change that I made this offseason was adding some length to my stride," he said. "I think that helps me command my pitches a lot better. Before, I was a little bit short and trying to get too much of an angle."
The Orioles optioned Scott Moore to Norfolk to make room for Johnson, and Trembley said the Orioles will likely stick with a 13-man pitching staff for the foreseeable future. Barring injury, Baltimore isn't allowed to recall Moore for at least 10 days. In Trembley's mind, that may yield more consistent playing time for the roster's holdovers.
"You'll probably see basically the same lineup with the exception of tomorrow," he said. "Day game after a night game, you'll see another catcher in there. It will give these guys an opportunity to get settled and get a lot of at-bats."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.