The off day Thursday couldn’t have come at a better time for the Orioles, who have got to get their bullpen situation figured out in a hurry with tough playoff-relevant series against the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox looming after this weekend’s final interleague series against the Colorado Rockies at Camden Yards.
Buck Showalter is a master at managing a bullpen, so he doesn’t need any advice from the peanut gallery or the press box, but it seems obvious that he needs to give Jim Johnson some time away from the pressure of the closer role to get back in a successful rhythm on the mound.
Hard to say how to accomplish that with side sessions or less pressure-packed situations, since it’s impossible to replicate a tough save opportunity in a laboratory, but the Orioles simply cannot afford to lose any more games in which they are leading in the ninth inning. Those losses knock the wind out of a team and the Orioles nearly suffocated in Arizona.
Here’s a guess: Showalter will continue to express confidence in Johnson, but switch to more of a matchup strategy in the ninth inning to give his closer a better opportunity to get back in a dominant groove.
Showalter said Wednesday that he doesn’t "foresee" using newcomer Francisco Rodriguez to save games, so the alternative is to use Tommy Hunter or Darren O'Day in some of those situations. I'm guessing that Francisco Rodriguez will also be in that mix if Johnson doesn't snap out of this funk soon.
Whatever Showalter decides, it will be on a short-term basis. Johnson has struggled before, and he has generally bounced back and reeled off a long string of successful save opportunities. Showalter knows the Orioles need him to be right to have a decent chance to go deep into the playoffs, so getting him back on top of his game will be Job One.