Manager Dave Trembley called reliever Jim Johnson into his office this afternoon, closing the door behind them. Johnson knew what was coming. The possibility kept him awake much of the night - same as Trembley.
The Orioles optioned Johnson to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for tonight’s starter, Brad Bergesen, on the 25-man roster.
Johnson posted a 6.52 ERA in 10 appearances, and he allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to score last night in another brutal outing. He was bumped from the closer’s role and no longer rated as the top set-up man.
Now he’ll head down to Norfolk and try to regain the form that once made him a trusted and valuable reliever, no matter how he’s used.
“It’s the best thing to do for Jim Johnson,” Trembley said. “I would expect Johnson to not be down there long. There’s some things that Kranny (pitching coach Rick Kranitz) talked to him about to get himself straightened out and get back here.
“I’m not going to talk about specifics as far as delivery and arm angles and throw more strikes. He needs to get back in more of a comfort zone. I think he needs to go on a little more of a relaxed environment, find himself again. I think he’s gotten away from what he’s done best.
“We had a nice, long conversation today and he understands.”
Johnson wasn’t available to meet with reporters. He apparently left the ballpark before the media was allowed inside the clubhouse.
“I don’t believe he sensed any surprise at all,” Trembley said. “I told him I was up quite late last night, very early this morning, and he said he was right there with me. He’s a pretty sharp guy. I told him he should be very proud of what he’s done. He’s very important to us. He’s a big part of where we’re going. He should walk out of here with his head held high.
“He said, ‘Dave, I’ve given you everything I’ve got,’ and I said, ‘I know that.’ Last night, it was max effort like you get from him all the time. It just hasn’t worked right now, and it’s early enough in the season to get him out and get him straightened out and get him back here.”
Last night’s game was the clincher for Johnson. The Orioles hadn’t decided to option him before he took the mound. Though they won’t confirm it, Matt Albers was clearly in danger of being designated for assignment before posting 3 1/3 scoreless innings in his last three appearances.
Albers blew through the 10th inning last night and picked up his first victory. Johnson blew a lead and almost cost the Orioles a much-needed win.
“It was a big consideration, it was a big factor,” Trembley said. “I didn’t know who it was going to be. Last night, Kranny and I were going back and forth, and we were going to come in here today and make a recommendation to Andy (MacPhail) and go from there.”
The Orioles haven’t discussed making Johnson a starter again. They view him strictly as a reliever.
They need him to stop getting away from what he does best. Keep it simple and don’t over-think it. Lose the starter’s mentality. Don’t resort to using every pitch in your repertoire at the first sign of trouble. Trust the sinker.
“That conversation, we’ve had with J.J. more than once. Kranny led that discussion today,” Trembley said.
“I think he just needs to go find himself and get back to being what he was. It won’t be long. Get back here.”