After blowing just three saves in 54 save opportunities last season, Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson has blown nine saves in 2013, including his last three. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume / Getty Images)
The Baltimore Orioles had the opportunity to collect some wins on their latest West Coast trip. The O’s won four of five games between a two-game series in San Diego and a three-game series against San Francisco, but when the team traveled to Arizona the road trip came to a disappointing conclusion.
The Orioles led the D-backs heading into the 7th inning in all three games of the series and in the final two games, it was Jim Johnson, the Orioles closer, who blew the save (Johnson also blew the save in the first game of the San Francisco series).
These were blown saves #7, #8 and #9 on the season for Johnson, who blew just three saves all of last season — now he’s blown three in a week, for the second time this season (he failed to convert saves on May 14, 18 and 20).
Though Johnson till leads the majors in saves (39), you couldn’t blame Orioles fans, players or coaches if they were a little concerned when Johnson entered a game with a small lead.
Opponents are batting .271 off Johnson this season and his 3.52 ERA is the highest of the 13 closers ranked 1-12 in terms of saves.
So, what can manager Buck Showalter do about Jim Johnson?
More of the same; do nothing and keep Johnson as the team’s closer:
Showalter has been loyal to Johnson and after earning the Rolaids Relief Man Award last season who can blame him. In 2012 Johnson was almost a guaranteed save when he entered games. From Aug. through Oct. in the regular season, Johnson allowed just one earned run. But in Game 1 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees, he was rocked for four earned runs including a homer and that seemed to be a change in the winds in terms of confidence.
So maybe Showalter sticks with him and Johnson figures it out as the team enters the last month and a half of the regular season. Earlier today Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair took a personal leave of absence, so maybe Bill Castro, the Oriole bullpen coach and fill-in for Adair, can work out some of Johnson’s issues.
Use Francisco Rodriguez:
Francisco Rodriguez set a MLB record 62 saves in 2008, will the Baltimore Orioles call on him to return to the role of closer? (Photo credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports)
On July 23 the O’s acquired Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers and one reason for doing so may have been as a back-up plan for Johnson. Rodriguez has oodles of closer experience — he collected save #300 earlier this season.
This season between Milwaukee and Baltimore (34 games), Rodriguez has a 1.87 ERA. Opponents are batting just .195 against him and he has converted all 10 of his save opportunities.
Use someone else:
The Orioles have other relievers that have shined when the team has needed them to. Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day, both former Texas Rangers, have been steady figures in the bullpen.
O’Day, a submarine-style pitcher who has been lights out since coming to Baltimore, has a team low 2.45 ERA this season. He has converted two of his four save opportunities and opponents are batting .219 against him.
Hunter, a former starter turned reliever, has a better opponent average (.209) and WHIP (0.93) than O’Day (.219/1.03) and Johnson (.271/1.34) in 65.1 innings pitched (compared to O’Day’s 51.1 and Johnson’s 53.2). Hunter has a 2.76 ERA this year and has converted three of his five save opportunities.
Both are right handed pitchers who have been two consistent performers all season. Perhaps they could carry over that consistency into the role of closer.
Acquire someone through trade waivers:
While the Orioles have a few internal options, there are trades that can still be made post trade deadline. The players traded must first clear waivers before a trade could be made but it is possible the O’s could make a move for another reliever. Who they would look at and who they could acquire are two different questions and it’s unclear whether they’re looking to make more transactions.
Chime in: What do you think is the best option? Or is there another route you’d take?