From time to time, the debate begins again. There are plenty of Orioles fans and some in the media that believe Jim Johnson, if given the chance, would be an excellent starting pitcher because he has several quality pitches.
As for Johnson, he is not campaigning for a shot at the rotation. In fact, he said last night, he figures he's now likely a bullpen pitcher for good.
"I think that has gone by the wayside honestly," Johnson said. "I think that time is long gone and I'm comfortable where I'm at. Every year, I come into spring training and my first goal is always the same. It's always to do the role that helps the team best. If you have the goal of doing your part from a team perspective, you'll end up where you are supposed to be."
Johnson joined Orioles manager Buck Showalter last night at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen as they spoke to a crowd of around 200 fans at the IronBirds' first-ever Hot Stove dinner.
Coming off a season where he went 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA and a major league-leading 51 saves, Johnson said there are some specific things he wants to work on in spring training starting next month.
"I want to work more on my secondary pitches. Not just the action on them, but the location of them," he said. "I like to pitch in what is called quadrants and different areas of the zone. And there are a couple of mechanical things that me and (pitching coach Rick Adair) have been talking about. Those are things that sometimes you can't work on during the course of the season. During spring training is a time that you can really try to take that next step with your craft."
After battling some injuries last spring, Johnson turned down a chance to pitch this March for the United States in the World Baseball Classic. His teammate, Adam Jones, will play for Team USA.
"Honestly, I think it's good for Adam," Johnson told the crowd. "It will get him some good at-bats early and give other guys a chance for Buck to look at and some time they might not normally get in spring training. For me, it just didn't line up this year. But it's a great honor to be considered to play on the team. Hopefully in three more years, I will be able to do it."
Johnson was asked what he thinks when he hears some national reporters write that the O's bullpen can't possibly be as good this season as it was in 2012.
"Well, the Orioles were supposed to be terrible last year," he said as the crowd cheered. "We hear that stuff, but it doesn't stick. They are not playing the games. I know the crew down there and I'm pretty confident in seeing what we can do this go-round."
It was my honor to host the Q&A session with Showalter and Johnson last night in Aberdeen. I have to say they showed that while they take their sport and jobs very seriously, they don't take themselves too seriously. They cracked a few jokes and one-liners and kept the crowd laughing. They also told some great stories and provided some real insights. It was one fun night of baseball talk.
I will share one quote from Johnson when he talked about last May 6 and the 17-inning game in Boston. He was asked what he thought about Chris Davis striking out Adrian Gonzalez with a split-finger fastball. Keep in mind he was just having fun when he made his comments about Davis.
"Let's clarify. It wasn't a split-finger fastball. It was a slow fastball that sank because it didn't have enough (velocity) to get there," Johnson said as the fans cracked up again. "He had more strikeouts than me that game, didn't he? Well, including the ones he had at the plate."