NORTH PORT, Fla. — Seth Johnson looked at the lineup card and got excited. Up and down it he saw regulars for the Atlanta Braves, the imposing hitters that have helped lead the club to the postseason for several years in a row.

For Johnson, a right-hander who reached Double-A Bowie last season, this Monday matchup at CoolToday Park was his first opportunity to see whether his big arm could translate to the highest level.

“When you throw big-league games,” Johnson said, “you want to throw against one of the best lineups in baseball.”

Johnson took the opportunity and ran with it in a 2-1 Orioles win. Even without a clear-cut chance to make the opening day roster, a UCL sprain for right-hander Kyle Bradish and a delayed buildup for left-hander John Means creates chances for others. Johnson showed his power fastball, sitting around 95 mph during his two innings. He forced Marcell Ozuna and Michael Harris II to whiff at sliders. He counted himself lucky when Austin Riley lined out to the shortstop and Matt Olson flew out to the deepest part of the yard.

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He threw 28 pitches, mixing his four-seam fastball with a short-breaking slider, a new splitter and a curveball. And all in all, Johnson felt validated. He went up against one of the best lineups in baseball and did more than just survive.

“I kind of showed myself that my stuff plays at this level,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I have a lot of refinement to do and just getting more reps to get more consistent with some stuff. I mean, I threw some pitches that I thought were going to get crushed and they ended up getting fouled off or something, so that was kind of cool to see. I was able to see my stuff play.”

Johnson — Baltimore’s 10th-ranked prospect, per Baseball America — realized the possible error in his ways when he threw a fastball to Olson.

“Wait, everybody here knows I’m going to throw this,” Johnson thought to himself. “Luckily, the park held it today.”

For many of Johnson’s teammates, this was his introduction to the organization in a game setting. Johnson joined from the Tampa Bay Rays as part of Baltimore’s 2022 three-team trade that sent first baseman Trey Mancini to the Houston Astros. Such a lively arm was available, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said at the time, because Johnson was undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

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That left Johnson in a “weird” position during last year’s spring training. He often kept to himself, wary of getting in the way of his new teammates. Johnson, 25, was just beginning to throw again. The other Orioles pitchers were all gearing up for a full season.

The former first-round pick from Campbell University made his organizational debut late in 2023, and in his final start of the campaign — and first at the Double-A level — he threw to catcher Silas Ardoin. In Johnson’s three innings there, he allowed one earned run and walked two, but he also struck out four batters.

“He commands the zone well, goes right after hitters,” Ardoin remembered. “He’s not afraid to challenge guys, and that’s something you always want to see in a pitcher like him, who has power stuff.”

He showed that habit in his first spring outing of the season, going right after Atlanta’s top hitters. Johnson forced popups from Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, then was fortunate in the placement of Riley’s liner. He challenged Olson with a fastball — and nearly paid for it — then walked Ozuna and escaped the inning with a double play from Harris.

Johnson can see there’s more work ahead of him. But he can also see he’s close.

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“I think once I get more consistent,” Johnson said, “my stuff will keep getting better and I’ll just be more comfortable executing pitches.”

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Seth Johnson (56) throws during the team’s spring training practice at Ed Smith Stadium on February 20, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Left-on-left experience

Outfielder Kyle Stowers has shown it in live batting practice sessions early in the spring: base hits against left-handed pitching. On Monday, he showed something extra in a game: a home run in a left-on-left matchup.

Stowers caught hold of a pitch and sent it beyond the right-center field fence against Dylan Lee, one of two homers Baltimore batters hit against the Braves. Earlier, infielder Jordan Westburg lashed a line-drive home run to left. Westburg almost had a second homer but left fielder Jarred Kelenic knocked it out of the air and Westburg settled for a triple.

“Kyle’s taken good at-bats all spring,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I know it’s really early, but I like the way he’s staying on the baseball there.”

As Stowers pushes for a place in a crowded outfield, the results in left-on-left matchups could prove pivotal. He only has seven plate appearances against left-handers at the major league level, compared to 124 against right-handers. His results, however small a sample size, could indicate a reverse-split tendency. Stowers hit .250 with a homer in those minimal plate appearances against lefties, compared to .205 against righties.

With a left-handed-heavy lineup Monday, several other of Baltimore’s younger hitters experienced high-level southpaw pitching. Max Fried, one of the best pitchers in baseball, struck out Heston Kjerstad with a series of sliders diving away out of the zone. Jackson Holliday, meanwhile, swung through a slider but held on a high fastball to work a walk. Holliday, though, struck out in his second at-bat against left-hander A.J. Minter.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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