Last season wasn’t particularly nice to O’s reliever Jim Johnson as he only played in 26 games due to elbow problems. The 27-year-old right-hander was sidelined in early-May after suffering a low-grade tear in his right elbow and didn’t return until late August. Johnson started feeling discomfort in his elbow after just the first game of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays and pitched through the pain as long as he could. He went 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA during that period and wasn’t nearly as effective as he had been in the past.
In the wake of Mike Gonzalez’s early-season shoulder injury, Johnson’s role changed from being just a middle reliever to someone the O’s would need to rely on to shore up the back end of their bullpen. But Johnson couldn’t answer the call as well as the O’s had hoped, allowing 15 hits and four walks over just 9 2/3 innings. As a result, he was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on May 1 and, after just one appearance, got his elbow checked out and was placed on the disabled list.
When Johnson returned to the O’s bullpen back in late August, he performed much better than he had before the injury. He only allowed three earned runs and 16 hits while striking out 13 in 16 2/3 innings pitched. Johnson has what it takes to be a very good setup man, he just needs to return to his form from 2009, where he appeared in a team-high 64 games and pitched 70 innings while compiling a 4.11 ERA. He was effective as a closer as well, and was successful in eight of his 11 chances after being named the closer back in late-July.
This season, Johnson will most likely go back to his middle reliever role considering some of the additions the O’s made this past off-season. As of now, Kevin Gregg, if he can get anyone out, will be the primary closer with Gonzalez being right behind him. Johnson could slide into the setup man again depending on how he performs as well as how his teammates perform.
Submitted by Steve Giles