Carroll County Times

Orioles: Closer by committee for Birds?

BALTIMORE - The ninth inning arrived Wednesday night at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles held a two-run lead, and Jim Johnson was in an unfamiliar spot.
Sitting on the bench in the bullpen.
Rather than trotting in, with the Foo Fighters' "The Pretender" blaring over the sound system, Johnson remained seated with the Orioles leading Tampa Bay 4-2. Johnson didn't even get loose in the eighth, as he usually does when Baltimore has the lead. Orioles manager Buck Showalter instead used Darren O'Day, Brian Matusz, and Tommy Hunter to navigate the ninth, with Hunter earning the save.
Johnson led the major leagues with 51 saves in 2012. He leads the AL this season with 39 saves. But his recent struggles are well documented.
No saves since Aug. 6. Three straight blown saves in a six-day span (nine overall). A 7.71 ERA over his last five appearances (11 hits, two home runs).
Johnson's role as Orioles closer might not be in jeopardy, but he may be getting a little help when the time comes for a save.
"We've got 30-something games. We're going to put our best foot forward every night," Showalter said after Wednesday's game. "Jimmy's our best option, one of them. I'm glad we've got more than one good option. We've got a lot of good options and we'll continue to make use of them."
Hunter earned his fourth career save Wednesday, and all four have come this year.
O'Day has two saves this year and four career saves. Matusz and fellow left-hander Troy Patton are each looking for their first career save.
On Wednesday, Showalter used O'Day for the eighth inning and one batter in the ninth: Tampa Bay's Wil Myers, who led off with a single.
A chess match ensued - Rays manager Joe Maddon used three consecutive pinch-hitters while Showalter went to Matusz and Hunter to close it out.
Johnson watched from the bullpen as Hunter faced Jose Lobaton with runners on first and third and two outs, but the game ended with catcher Matt Wieters throwing out Kelly Johnson trying to steal second base.
Showalter said he could have used Jim Johnson in the ninth but chose to rest his closer Wednesday night.
"He had been up two or three days in a row and pitched [Tuesday] night," Showalter said. "He's like second or third in appearances and I was trying real hard to stay away from him.
"Darren had two days off. Tommy was good for one up and in. If I leave Brian in there, they're probably going to bunt [Sean] Rodriguez. There were some other factors. I think both of us couldn't afford to play extra innings."
Showalter's confidence in Johnson as his closer makes it seem as if Orioles fans can expect to see Johnson back in his usual role. But the manager's faith in his other relievers is evident too.
"That's pretty much the basis of being a pitcher is getting outs," Hunter said. "It is what it is. Whether it's the sixth, ninth, eighth, seventh, as baseball players, you have to get outs."