Statistically speaking, Jim Johnson recorded the easiest save a closer could convert on Wednesday night against the Nationals. He entered the game with a three run lead and recorded three consecutive outs against Washington’s 7, 8 and 9 hitters.
Still, he showed some encouraging signs after struggling to locate his pitches in his previous four blown saves.
Johnson received a nice ovation from the crowd when The Pretender came blaring over the speakers at Camden Yards. Honestly, a warmer welcome than I was expecting. It seems like fans love to pick on struggling relief pitchers and I just assumed that Johnson would be their latest target.
It took JJ just 11 pitches to work his perfect ninth inning and he threw nine of those pitches for strikes. Chad Tracy lined out to first base on an 89 MPH changeup that Johnson had run in to the middle of the plate. Besides a fastball he threw to the backstop, that was his worst pitch. Thankfully, Chris Davis made a nice play at first for out number one.
While watching Johnson warmup, I noticed him threw a few more curveballs to Matt Wieters than I’m used to seeing. Against Kurt Suzuki, he used a beautiful curveball for a called third strike to get the second out.
Johnson didn’t mess around against Danny Espinosa. He set him up with two fastballs and got strike three on a changeup down in the zone.
It was just 11 pitches against an NL lineup’s bottom third of the order, but JJ looked like JJ again last night. He missed on one pitch, but used the defense behind him to pick him up. His pitches had nice horizontal movement and he located the fastball and curveball better than he has in nearly two weeks.
I’d hesitate to say that Johnson “is back,” but he showed every indication of it during Wednesday night’s save.