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Orioles Insider: Jim Johnson will be team's closer

Reliever finished strong last year, but struggled with back issues this spring

By Dan Connolly

The Baltimore Sun

1:18 PM EDT, April 6, 2012

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Here are some highlights from Buck Showalter’s pre-game media session:

Showalter announced the obvious, saying that Jim Johnson would get the call today if the Orioles had the lead in the ninth. He told Johnson via text earlier this week, after congratulating him on the birth of his son.

“He texted me something about the baby and something else, and I said, ‘Congratulations. And by the way, you're closing.’” Showalter said. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ ”

Johnson was delayed in the spring because of  back issues, but Showalter said he believes Johnson has returned to form. Although he says he understands that at times Johnson could struggle in save situations – like all closers do on occasion.

“It won't be an easy job. He'll have some times where he won't be aesthetically pleasing or whatever you want to call it,” Showalter said. “But Jimmy showed us last year that he's capable of doing it.”

Showalter said Kevin Gregg, who began last year as the club’s closer, can fill a variety of roles in the bullpen.

“Certainly pitching late in the ballgames is one of them. We've got a lot of options there.”

Showalter admitted he was a little concerned in January when right fielder Nick Markakis underwent surgery to repair tears in his abdomen.

“A little bit. I wouldn’t say (I was) unhappy. We had to do it a little later on in the offseason, but knowing Nick and knowing our trainers and the work that they would do to get back, maybe with somebody else I might’ve been more concerned,” Showalter said. “But it’s pretty easy to read his face and tell how he feels. I know the first probably week to 10 days of spring training, he was a little uneasy about how he was feeling. It was just uncharted territory for him, going down that long of a period. If he has a great season, we all know Nick’s going to get there about March 10 next year, which might be right.”

Brian Roberts (concussion) is with the team but on the 15-day disabled list. Showalter said he does hope he’ll see his leadoff hitter in the lineup this year

“I’ve always been optimistic about that for the most part. Just like him, probably some days more than others. But it’s just uncharted territory. To sit here and try and critique it, and this and that, I would’ve taken where he is now. He’s another guy who you see his countenance and know what’s going on with him. I think we all know what it would mean to our club if he could come back and play like Brian’s capable.”

Here are Showalter’s thoughts on Opening Day being special, and important to win – no matter how much others try to downplay it.

“It's a tradition for a lot of families. Every time we have a great crowd and a great atmosphere, I really want to play especially well so people that go home and say, ‘I want to come back and be a part of that.’ So, of course it's important to me. If (a win) doesn't happen, I'll be disappointed. If it does, I'll dwell on it for about 10 minutes and see if we can do it again tomorrow.”

Yes, Showalter said, it’s only one game of 162. Still, there’s something important about it.
     
"I understand the reality of it. You look at last year and the years in the past, and you really know the reality of what it actually means long term,” he said. “But it's one of those days when you live in the short term. I'm OK with that. I stand accused."