There could not be a worse time for Baltimore Orioles closer Jim Johnson to have his late-inning demons reappear than right now, in the midst of a tight playoff race, and one that the O’s are not currently leading. Rock solid at the back end of the bullpen last year, Johnson has now blown eight saves this season, two of them coming in the last week, when the team needs him to be at his best. For comparisons sake, he blew 3 saves all of last season. Even when converting saves this season, Johnson has been shaky, currently holding a WHIP of 1.31, which is just not good enough for a guy expected to lock down the 9th inning night in and night out.
The Orioles have plenty of other options they could audition for the role. Flamethrower Tommy Hunter has been great in an 8th inning role this year. Darren O’Day, despite giving up a homerun in his last appearance, is normally the epitome of stability. Jairo Ascencio struggled in his brief major league stint earlier this season, but does have 22 saves and a 2.47 ERA down at AAA Norfolk, and may be worth a look if things go from bad to worse. A darkhorse candidate? Kevin Gausman. The Orioles could potentially use him in the same way that the Rays used David Price during their 2008 playoff run, and he certainly has the electric stuff that managers like to have in closers.
I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that O’s skipper Buck Showalter is going to stick with Johnson, for at least the rest of this season. He really believes that Johnson is the guy who is best suited for the job, and taking him out of the role now, at this point in the year, might ruin his confidence forever. Oriole fans just have to hope that he can right the ship one more time, before it’s too late.
The Orioles will finish their series with the Arizona Diamondbacks today at Chase Field before heading home to take on the Colorado Rockies. Chris Tillman (14-3, 3.73) will look to get is 15th win of the season against Arizona’s young phenomenon Patrick Corbin (12-3, 2.36). The game will start at 3:40 ET.