Former Orioles closer Jim Johnson now ex-Athletics closer, too

The Baltimore Sun

In what has to be one of the most stunning career reversals in recent baseball history, former Orioles closer Jim Johnson -- who saved at least 50 games in each of the past two seasons -- has been removed from that role after barely two weeks in Oakland.

Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin told reporters Thursday that he has decided to close games by committee until Johnson can recover from his early season struggles. The 30-year-old right-hander has appeared in five games and is 0-2 with an 18.90 ERA and just one save.

It is a shocking reversal of fortune for Johnson, who had one of the greatest all-time seasons for a closer in 2012, and last year became the first American League closer to save 50 or more games in back-to-back seasons.

But there were certainly signs of trouble last year, when Johnson struggled through a couple very rough stretches and led the majors with nine blown saves, which gave the Orioles some cover when executive vice president Dan Duquette dealt him to the Athletics to avoid paying him a projected $10 million in arbitration.

That looks like a great move right now, since Johnson has given up runs in three of his first five outings and new Orioles closer Tommy Hunter has converted all three of his save opportunities.

Johnson finally earned his first save Sunday, in his fourth appearance, but he gave up two runs in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in a game that Oakland won in 11 innings.

There are all sorts of possible explanations for his poor start. He was very invested in the Orioles organization and reportedly was stunned by the decision to trade him after his historic performance the past two years, but it seems much more likely that his problems are mechanical. He has allowed 15 base runners in just 3 1/3 innings, and his six walks are highly out of character.

No doubt, he'll get more chances to close this year. The Athletics are paying him way too much not to try and salvage him, but the decision to deal for him instead of re-signing Grant Balfour isn't looking good at the moment. Balfour has allowed just two base runners in three scoreless appearances (two saves) for the Tampa Bay Rays.

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