The last time Orioles closer Jim Johnson had walked off the mound, it was after his fourth blown save in five opportunities Sunday, when was unable to preserve a three-run ninth-inning lead in a 6-5 walk-off loss to Toronto at Rogers Centre.
But when Johnson took the mound in the ninth inning Wednesday night, he was greeted by a chorus of cheers and a loud ovation from the Camden Yards crowd.
Minutes later, the right-hander shut the door on a 9-6 victory over the Washington Nationals with a quick, 11-pitch inning that ended with a three-pitch strikeout of second baseman Danny Espinosa for his 16th save of the season.
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Despite his recent struggles, Johnson feels he’s working his way back to the form that previously led him to a team-record 35 straight converted save opportunities.
“I feel better,” Johnson said Thursday. “I’m always trying to improve and I’ll continue to do that.”
Johnson got Washington third baseman Chad Tracy to line out to first base on the second pitch of his at-bat in Wednesday's ninth inning, and he and struck out catcher Kurt Suzuki on six pitches before setting down Espinosa on a changeup.
“I threw three offspeed pitches and two were good,” Johnson said. “At this level, it’s usually about location.”
It had been three days since Johnson last pitched, and manager Buck Showalter said he would have been given the ball no matter the Orioles’ lead in the attempt to rediscover his rhythm.
“With Jimmy, he’ll just look at me and I’ll look at him and kind of make some eye contact,” Showalter said. “I know what he’s thinking, and he knows he has a pretty good idea of what I’m thinking.”
For Johnson, the focus now returns to the consistency he displayed during his consecutive save streak from July 30, 2012 through May 10. Johnson also led the majors with 51 saves in 2012.
“I’m guess I’m just trying to make the adjustments that I have to,” he said. I’ll just continue to do that and trust that what I’m doing is the right thing.”