Case closed for Johnson

Should we believe that Jim Johnson is going to make a start before the 2011 season comes to a merciful end?

It’s not necessary.

The Orioles can decide over the winter that Johnson belongs in the rotation. They can put him on a starter’s schedule in spring training. They can change their minds at any time and return him to the bullpen.

It’s not like he’ll be stretched out so far that he can’t snap back to a short-relief role. He’s not a rubber band.

Johnson hasn’t been formally named the closer this month, but if it looks like a closer and it quacks like a closer, it’s a closer.

He’s recorded saves in five of his last six appearances and has permitted runs in only two of his last 15. He entered Game 1 yesterday in the ninth inning with the Orioles clinging to a 6-5 lead.

Kevin Gregg entered Game 2 in the eighth with the Red Sox clinging to an 18-9 lead.

The only way it could have more closely resembled mop-up duty is if manager Buck Showalter handed him the ball in a bucket.

Gregg didn’t allow a run, but he put two men on base via a hit and walk. He’s only pitched twice since Sept. 10, and he’s given up five runs (four earned) and five hits, with three walks, in his last three appearances covering 2 1/3 innings.

I still don’t think the Orioles are going to cut him loose with another year and $5.8 million left on his contract. They kept Michael Gonzalez until finally trading him last month. They changed Gonzalez’s role and could do the same with Gregg.

Showalter might be using Johnson in the ninth inning simply out of need. He’s not showing his hand.

He’s just handing Johnson the ball in save situations. Over and over again.

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