Editor's Note: Thursday's game between the Angels and Orioles ended too late for this edition.
BALTIMORE - Jim Johnson doesn't take much of the credit for his stellar first-half numbers as the Orioles' closer, numbers that earned him a spot on the American League's all-star roster.
He's the last line of defense, and almost every time he delivers. Entering Thursday's game in Los Angeles, Johnson had converted 25 of 26 save opportunities and his total was tops in the major leagues.
He was 1-0 with a 1.24 ERA and opponents were batting .154 against him before Thursday's game.
But for Johnson, 29, it's just another facet of helping the Orioles stay in contention and doesn't have as much to do with him as the entire squad.
"I [feel] like I'm more the beneficiary of the rest of the guys, the other pitchers, the lineup," Johnson said. "I'm just kind of the guy at the end part where people tend to focus on the stat of saves."
But Johnson is more than that. He's a product of the Orioles' minor leagues, a former starter who seven years ago won the prize as the organization's top pitcher in the farm system. He made 126 starts in the minors, going 46-40 with a 3.28 ERA, before the club decided to move Johnson into a relief role in 2009.
He collected 10 saves in 16 chances that year and became the Orioles' closer once the team traded George Sherrill to the Dodgers. But Johnson was back in a set-up role while Alfredo Simon and Kevin Gregg traded seasons as the closer.
Johnson had nine saves in 2011 and 21 career saves before this year. Now he's one of the best in the majors thanks to years of fine-tuning his repertoire of pitches and mechanics.
"I'm always tinkering with stuff," said Johnson, an imposing presence on the mound at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds. "These last couple weeks I've been working on a couple different things, to try to get myself better. That's the name of the game. Everybody's trying to get better every single day. You don't want to stay stagnant. You're always trying to be ahead of the curve."
Johnson is one of three Orioles on the all-star roster. He joins catcher Matt Wieters and center fielder Adam Jones in Kansas City for the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday.
Jones, who is making his second all-star appearance, said Johnson is a worthy pick based on his season to date.
"We've asked him to come into some ballgames, some rough ballgames in the eighth inning, and he's got us out of them, shut down the ninth for us," Jones said. "To say the least, he's more than deserving."
Johnson said his ability to change his mental approach to pitching has served him well as a reliever. His major-league debut came in 2006, in late July for a spot start with the Orioles. It didn't go well - Johnson gave up eight runs on nine hits in three innings against Chicago in a 13-11 loss.
It remains Johnson's only start with Baltimore. Since then he's become a short-inning guy, and said it's a different mindset getting ready for a game from the bullpen.
"You have a lot of responsibility, because for them to get you the ball with a lead, a lot of things have to go right," Johnson said. "It is on your shoulders, and there's a little bit more pressure. But you have to accept that.
"You can't try to fake it every day. You have to 100 percent want to, every single day. That's the biggest key."
And Johnson seems to be thriving in his role.
He had allowed 19 hits and only five runs in 36 1-3 innings entering Thursday night's game. It's his best season as a professional, and Johnson just wants to keep going for as long as possible.
"There are a lot of reasons why, but it's gone well," Johnson said. "I'm going through a good stretch and I'm just trying to stay right there."