Back of the ‘pen isn’t broke, so don’t fix it

Didn’t we spend a chunk of the winter debating whether Jim Johnson should be a starter instead of the closer?

Didn’t manager Buck Showalter suggest that Johnson could make some starts last September, or be placed on a starter’s schedule in spring training?

Will we have the same argument and hear the same talk this winter?

I’ll say again that Johnson is my choice for Most Valuable Oriole. His 38 saves rank second on the club’s all-time single-season list. He’s tied with Fernando Rodney for the major league lead. He’s taken all the drama out of the ninth inning.

Earl Weaver might have given up smoking if Johnson had been his closer.

It’s no accident that the Orioles are 43-18 in one- and two-run games and 52-0 when ahead after the seventh inning. Connect the dots. They lead directly to Johnson.

pedro-strop-follow-through-black-sidebar.jpgThey usually pass through Pedro Strop, who lowered his ERA to 1.46 last night with 1 1/3 scoreless innings that included a huge strikeout of Josh Hamilton to end the seventh.

I understand the temptation to revisit putting Johnson in the rotation next season and making Strop the closer. Strop looks like he’s being groomed in a similar manner to Armando Benitez, who posted a 2.45 ERA in 71 games as Randy Myers’ set-up man in 1997 before replacing him the following season.

Benitez also had nine saves in ‘97 and struck out 106 in 73 1/3 innings, but he’s mostly remembered for the hanging sliders to Marquis Grissom in Game 2 and Tony Fernandez in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

Myers was approaching free agency and the end of his career. The situation is much different with Johnson, who’s 29 and under team control through 2015.

The back of this bullpen is a tremendous strength and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be tampered with in 2013.

Strop, an absolute steal last summer in the waiver-claim trade with the Rangers for left-hander Michael Gonzalez, is a weapon in the eighth inning. Johnson is nearly automatic in the ninth.

Leave it alone.

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