At the end of Buck Showalter’s postgame press conference Tuesday night, the Orioles manager said something that gave us pause.
He was off the podium before I processed what he had said. It may have meant something major – it may not be anything at all. I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
Showalter was asked whether he considered starting the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays with closer Jim Johnson instead of sticking with long reliever T.J. McFarland, who had been pitching since the sixth.
The score was 3-2 in favor of the Rays, and McFarland loaded the bases and then allowed a two-run double to Matt Joyce. Showalter then brought in Johnson, who gave up three straight singles – allowing two inherited runners to score – before getting a double play to end the inning.
Here’s how Showalter answered the question about Johnson starting the ninth:
“I was trying not to, trying not to. Mac was throwing the ball well. ... Trying to stay away so [Johnson] could possibly pitch a multiple inning [stint] for us tomorrow. Plus, you’ve got, in a one-run game, possibility of extra innings. He was the one guy that could’ve given us multiple innings down there.”
Now, the immediate point is that Johnson hadn’t pitched in three days while other late-inning relievers had. So Showalter wanted to hold onto Johnson as late as possible because he was rested. And that Johnson may be needed to get extra outs if it went to extra innings Tuesday. All of that doesn’t surprise me.
What did was Showalter’s statement that Johnson could possibly pitch multiple innings on Wednesday if he hadn’t pitched Tuesday. Johnson, who has blown his last three save opportunities, has thrown in 59 games this season. The only time he has appeared in multiple innings was when he lost a game on April 24; he pitched in the 10th and 11th innings of that one.
He has not gotten more than three outs in an appearance at any point this season.
Showalter said earlier this week that he had options he would consider using in the ninth besides Johnson, but he hadn’t played that card yet – not with Johnson rested.
And when the Orioles looked like they would have a save opportunity on Sunday before breaking the game open in the eighth, Johnson was warming in the bullpen.
At that point I was sure Johnson would get the ball in the next save opportunity.
Now – after hearing Showalter say the plan was perhaps multiple innings for Johnson on Wednesday – I’m not so sure.
Of course, talk doesn't really matter. We won't know anything for sure until the Orioles have a lead in the ninth and the bullpen door opens.