It took awhile for Buck Showalter to proclaim that Jim Johnson is his closer for this year, but now that he is, Showalter seems confident in what Johnson can do in the role.
Johnson is 2-for-2 in save chances over the first three games and now has saved 10 straight dating back to last Aug. 14. He certainly seems comfortable now in that role.
“We hope so,” Showalter said. “Jimmy, I don’t know what else you can, with the things he’s been exposed to, not be any more prepared for it. Whether or not he can execute it over a long season. He did last year (late in the year). He’s one of those guys ‘what do you need me to help the team?’ Jimmy’s an Oriole. This means a lot to him.
“You can just tell the way he carries himself. I first met him when he was at (Double-A) Bowie pitching on a rehab (in 2010). I saw him and thought ‘this guy has a chance to be pretty good.’ I’m proud of him. He’s done a lot of work and he’s deserving of some good times, from a team standpoint too.”
When Johnson was handed the closer’s role last last year he ran with it. In September he went 7-for-7 in save chances and opponent batters hit just .179 off him.
He blew through the top of the Twins order Sunday on just 11 pitches and struck out Joe Mauer to end the game and save Jason Hammel’s win.
There was some concern expressed during camp that Johnson’s velocity was down. Does Showalter believe that is a non-issue now?
“I never say no, but Jimmy can do things with the baseball,” Showalter said. “This is not all about I’m going to overpower you. Jimmy’s a pitcher. You see the sequence on Mauer yesterday, it was like wow.
“He went fastball, changeup. We were sitting in the dugout and said the one pitch he has a chance to put him away with right here is a curveball and he threw it at a perfect time. You see the great tempo with Jimmy and (Matt) Wieters because they are on the same page.
“I talked to (coach) DeMarlo (Hale) and (Triple-A manager) Ron Johnson this spring and asked them what the Red Sox said (last year) about our pitchers in advance meetings. It was pretty revealing and they liked Jimmy. Didn’t like hitting off him though.”
Johnson is off to a good start and maybe there will be less drama for the Orioles in the ninth inning this season.