OAKLAND -- Orioles rookie Steve Johnson threw three scoreless innings in Saturday's 5-2 loss to the A's to lower his ERA to 1.35 in seven relief outings. Johnson, who earned his third win Sept. 11 vs. the Rays, is one of several young starting pitchers who have made the transition to the bullpen and said Saturday night he's slowly adjusting to the role.
"I'm learning," said Johnson, who has 13 1/3 relief innings under his belt. "I'm not fully comfortable, but I'm comfortable enough to get the job done. I've been starting my whole life, so I've converted OK so far, but I've got a lot of work to do."
Johnson joins Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter as former starters currently in the bullpen, giving manager Buck Showalter a few more weapons, and length if needed, behind the Orioles' rotation.
"What's the opposite side of that? Not being in the big leagues," Showalter said of the group's transition to the 'pen. "That's the way it used to be done. ... You used to come up as a reliever, you build up all your innings as a starter in the Minor Leagues and then you came up. Ask [team broadcaster and Hall of Famer] Jim Palmer and those guys, you start out that way. You'd give them a little and see how much they could take.
"My question is what's more valuable, a really good reliever in the American League East or a really good starter? You've got to have both, so if you overlook one the other's gonna bite you."
Matusz has pitched to a 1.93 ERA in 10 relief appearances, stranding all nine of his inherited runners, while Arrieta threw an impressive two innings on Friday night in Oakland, striking out five. Hunter entered Sunday with three consecutive scoreless outings out of the bullpen.
"Pitching is pitching, as long as you are not sitting down there nine or 10 days, and as you've seen, we've tried to keep them all pretty active, unfortunately, because there has been a need," Showalter said. "If you look at it as a reason to fail, they don't want to fail at anything at this stage in their careers. If they had a track record of successful starting for a long period of time, they would probably look at it a little differently, but [both spots] have Major League job next to them. More importantly that's what the club needs them to do right now."