With 51 saves last year and 50 this season, Jim Johnson joined a small club that also includes Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne. They are the only pitchers in big league history with two 50-save seasons. No one has ever had three.
But we know that doesn’t tell the whole story of Johnson’s 2013 season and his nine blown saves were very costly for the Orioles.
But he didn’t have any blown saves from mid-August through the end of year, going 11-for-11 with an ERA of 0.57 over his last 16 games beginning Aug. 20. Included in that though was a costly loss to the Yankees, when Johnson’s throwing error and wild pitch led to a loss in the ninth inning.
But the sink on Johnson’s fastball seemed to be back late in the year. He said at one point he was working on getting later movement of his pitches. Was that the key to his end-of-year pitching?
“As a pitcher, there are always little tweaks that you have to do,” Johnson said. “It is all the same thing and it is what makes sense to you that given day. There is a lot of feel involved in it.
“A hitter is the same way. That is why you see guys messing with their stance. There is so much repetition and muscle memory, you may have to reinforce some habits.
“There are always mechanical adjustments, whether you are going good or bad. I know when I release a ball if that’s proper, and you are always evaluating pitch to pitch and appearance to appearance.”
Johnson’s performance against the American League East was not as good in 2013, but it would have been very tough to duplicate his 2012 stats within the division. He went 2-0 with an ERA of 0.80 and 20-of-21 saves versus the AL East last year; this season, he went 2-5 with a 3.48 ERA and 24-of-28 saves against the East.
One thing Johnson won’t do moving forward is add a four-seam fastball to his repertoire. Some feel it would help the right-hander to have more than one type of fastball, the sinking two-seamer. While some Web sites that track pitches contend Johnson did throw four-seam fastballs this year - albeit a very low percentage - Johnson said he threw a couple in all of 2013. And he means just a couple.
“I have thrown two four-seamers this entire year,” he said. “One, I hit a guy with and the other was taken for a ball. There is a time and place for that.
“I heard somebody say I wasn’t throwing as many four-seamers this year and I didn’t throw many last year. It is just what one guy punches into a computer.”
So that pitch is not one he throws now or one he will throw in the future, he said.
“No, when I’m out there I can’t be tinkering around. That is not a strength of my game. The time to mess around with that is in between games or spring training, but when the game is on the line, what I’m throwing is going to be what I’m most confident throwing. If that is a fault, then I’m guilty of that,” he said.