Johnson looks to latch on at first with O's
Now healthy, veteran aims for first big league season since '09
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Don't bring up the subject of the Orioles' new training room to veteran Nick Johnson.
"I'm trying to stay out of there," said Johnson, who last played a full Major League season in 2009. "I've spent enough time in there."
Johnson, who was signed to a Minor League deal this offseason, arrived early to Baltimore's Spring Training camp and said on Wednesday that his right wrist is fully healthy. That's no small feat considering Johnson has had four procedures, three within the past two years, earning him the "oft-injured" tag that players dread. He was signed to a Minor League deal with the Indians in 2011, but his wrist still hadn't healed and Johnson spent most of the year with Triple-A Columbus, hitting .201 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 53 games.
"I tried to play and hit with a brace. I tried everything to get on the field," Johnson said. "I just couldn't. In [batting practice], it hurt. I tried to get into games, but there was always pain. This year, I'm feeling good."
The 33-year-old Johnson said he started hitting in early January and he's been taking batting practice outside with the other early arrivals with no problems.
"If he's healthy, he's a contributor, there's no doubt about it -- especially in some of the things we want to improve on offensively," manager Buck Showalter said. "His background is something I've always -- I don't want to say coveted -- really liked from the Yankees days all around. This guy is a baseball player. He gets it. [He's a] plus defender, a real pain at the plate. He takes what you give him. [It's] just a matter of if he can stay on the field."
Signed to add depth at first base and designated hitter, Johnson has an unusually high .401 on-base percentage over nine Major League seasons, and he laughs at the mention of the statistic, which comes up in nearly every interview. Both Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette place emphasis on on-base percentage, and the Orioles have looked for ways to infuse the lineup in lieu of a true cleanup hitter.
"I'm glad he's here," Showalter said of Johnson. "The thing is health. ... He knows. He knows where the finish line is."
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.