A few thoughts on Jim Johnson and the closer situation

I hadn’t intended to write about Jim Johnson this morning. The subject was covered quite thoroughly again yesterday after his third consecutive blown save. But I’ll offer my two cents here before finding another topic.

First of all, anyone suggesting that the Orioles should release Johnson - or cut him, as if it were the NFL - needs to get a clue. There’s no reason to do it and he’s too good for such treatment, no matter how much he’s scuffling at the moment.

At his best, Johnson has three plus pitches. His stuff is downright nasty. He saved 51 games in 54 chances last season. He’d go on the road in the American League East and retire the side in order to preserve a one-run lead. Think that’s easy?

Most fans here wanted to throw a parade for him. Now they want to run him out of town.

The argument is whether Johnson should remain the closer, not whether he should remain in the organization.

It’s gotten to the point where manager Buck Showalter needs to put Johnson in less-pressurized situations, as he’s done with other slumping relievers, until the right-hander gets back on track. Work the seventh inning. Heck, work the eighth in a set-up role. Come into games with big leads or deficits, relax and fire away. A couple 1-2-3 frames might do the trick.

Johnson isn’t getting the same sink on his fastball, and he doesn’t seem to exude the same confidence on the mound, at least to the naked eye. Only Johnson truly knows if cracks are forming. But if there’s an issue, if he’s feeling lost right now, Showalter isn’t doing him any favors by running him out there in the ninth.

Showalter’s loyalty to his players is admirable. It’s a big reason why they respect him and would run through a wall for him. I can’t recall a more popular manager in the clubhouse. But he’s not doing them any favors, either, if a succession of blown saves and crushing defeats keeps them out of the playoffs.

It’s too late to consider Johnson for the rotation. He isn’t stretched out enough. Put a pin in that suggestion until the winter. And it’s worth revisiting when you consider that he’s on the threshold of another raise while remaining arbitration eligible. How much do you want to pay a closer?

The Orioles have other relievers who can close. Francisco Rodriguez is on a roll. Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter are capable, at least in the short term. Isn’t that supposed to be part of the bullpen’s appeal?

I thought Rodriguez was acquired, in part, to provide Showalter with another option if Johnson were unavailable. Or, as it turned out, ineffective.

The Orioles were swept in Arizona and fingers were pointed at Johnson, but he wasn’t the sole reason. The starters must take some responsibility. The offense must take some responsibility. How many runs did the Orioles score yesterday after the second inning? How many opportunities did they waste after the ninth? But the light shines brightest on the closer. It’s understandable.

Just know that Johnson doesn’t feel badly for himself. He feels badly for the team and how his decline has affected it.

Showalter needs to save Jim Johnson until he’s ready to save games again.

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