SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jair Jurrjens threw five scoreless innings following Orioles starter Steve Johnson, and manager Buck Showalter raved about Jurrjens' performance following Friday's 6-3 win over the Rays.
"That's as good as I've seen him today," Showalter said of Jurrjens, who allowed two hits and struck out three. "He, regardless of which hitter was against all that other stuff, he was in command. That's pretty solid right there. Down with everything with a couple exceptions. Pretty impressive. We got to make some decisions where he's concerned toward the end of the month."
Signed to a Minor League deal this spring, Jurrjens has an out in his contract and is a long shot to make the Orioles' Opening Day roster, given the wealth of rotation candidates. But after a shaky start, he has steadily made improvements in getting his mechanics back and has allowed one earned run over his last eight innings.
Johnson, who is still in the mix for the team's fifth-starter spot, wasn't as crisp and struggled with his command in a three-walk third inning. After retiring the first eight batters, Johnson walked the bases loaded for Rays' slugger Evan Longoria. Longoria doubled to left field on a liner Trayvon Robinson tried to make a play on but missed, allowing the bases to clear.
"Obviously you want to have good outings all the time, especially now. Now is kind of crunch time," said Johnson. "You don't want to have anything happen like this, especially a couple batters in a row ... [it was] just really frustrating. I was cruising, I felt good; it just didn't work out that inning."
Johnson started the game and pitched four innings, allowing one hit outside of the third inning, raising his ERA to 3.46 in five outings. Friday's start comes on the heels of Jake Arrieta's dominant nine-strikeout performance Thursday night, and Johnson is also competing with Brian Matusz and Zach Britton for the final rotation spot.
"Everything was good, except the one inning," Showalter said of Johnson's unusually erratic command. "Throw that out and he was very ... he was Steve. Steve brings a baseball player's mentality to pitching. He's a pitcher that's a baseball player. But that was uncharacteristic for him. He may do it for a hitter, but he gets right back in sync."
"The 3-1 pitch to the hitter [Mike Fontenot] before Longoria was a strike. That's what [catcher Taylor Teagarden] said, and he's pretty honest. But whatever. It would have been 3-2. Yeah, it wasn't good for him, but he's pitched well. Throw that inning out, and he was pretty good today."
With 11 days until Opening Day, Johnson is hoping he will get a chance to do just that.
"Three batters I let get away from me and it [stinks], it [stinks] that it resulted in three runs," he said. "But I came back, battled and came back next inning. Hopefully [I] will get another outing and show that that was a fluke."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.