Like much of Baltimore, the Orioles organization has watched with interest as former closer Jim Johnson has struggled this early season with the Oakland Athletics.
Interest probably isn’t the right word. Try empathy.
“Everybody’s been there. Everybody’s had a time where they’re not pitching up to their potential,” said Orioles’ set-up man Darren O’Day, who was one of Johnson’s closer friends on the club. “I’ve been there. Tommy [Hunter] has been there. When I was with the [Texas] Rangers, Mariano [Rivera] blew two saves in a row. So, it happens.”
After recording 50 or more saves in two consecutive seasons to lead the American League each year, the Johnson was dealt to the Athletics in December for infielder Jemile Weeks and a minor league catcher.
It was an unpopular move at the time because it was viewed as a salary dump – Johnson was projected to make about $10 million in his final year of arbitration. But Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette vowed to reallocate the funds, and ultimately the team added starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The thought was that the Orioles couldn’t put $10 million toward a closer, not when they had Hunter seemingly ready to do the job. And Johnson was far from perfect; he blew nine saves in 2013.
So the Athletics added Johnson for what seemed like a modest giveaway, and his first two weeks have been a disaster. After allowing five runs in nine innings this spring, Johnson was touched up for seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings through his first five games.
In that stretch, he went 0-2 with an 18.90 ERA and a .529 opponents’ average – allowing nine hits and six walks while retiring 10 batters. His sinker wasn’t sinking and he was having trouble locating his other pitches. And, on Thursday, he was temporarily pulled from the closer’s job in Oakland.
“With Jim, it is magnified because he is on a new team. And they traded for him. He is making a good amount of money -- with that comes a lot of attention,” O’Day said. “But he is going to be fine. He’s got to get back to doing what he is doing and attack the bottom of the zone.”
O’Day, among other Orioles, has been in contact with Johnson in the past two weeks. And O’Day, for one, said he isn’t worried about Johnson turning things around.
“Yeah, we talked a little bit. Jim is the kind of guy that figures things out for himself,” O’Day said. “He knows what he has to do and it’s just a matter of him doing it. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen in time. He’s been too good for too long to struggle like that. It’ll just be one day, one pitch will click and from there on it will just be the same Jim.”