It has been a tough couple of weeks for closer Jim Johnson, who blew three straight save opportunities right after setting an Orioles record with his 35th consecutive save.
It was clear during those games that Johnson was not able to get good sink on his fastball and was struggling with the command of all his pitches, but there was no sign of trouble on Saturday against the heart of the Toronto Blue Jays lineup.
Johnson fell behind slugger Edwin Encarnacion to start the ninth inning, but he located his sinking fastball at the bottom of the zone repeatedly during a long at-bat before getting the out on a bouncer to third. He retired sizzling Adam Lind on a soft liner to Manny Machado, then overpowered Brett Lawrie with three fastballs -- the first two diving down and into the lower inside corner of the strike zone.
Obviously, Johnson and pitching coach Rick Adair have been working hard to identify the temporary flaw in his mechanics, because he was on top of the ball and -- with the exception of those first two pitches -- put it exactly where he wanted it.
Though he doesn’t show much emotion on the mound, Johnson looked very satisfied as he accepted congratulations from his teammates after the one-run victory. He probably won’t admit to being relieved, but you can bet everybody else certainly finally exhaled.