Everyone knows the Baltimore Orioles need better pitching and have since Mike Mussina’s departure after the 2000 season. The front office always tries to import talent instead of building within their organization.
Set up man Jim Johnson has been the most consistent Birds’ bullpen hurler over the last four seasons. The recent talk around the clubhouse is that Johnson will be rewarded for his consistent relief work and could move into the rotation.
It’s evident that Johnson has deserved a chance to prove himself in the rotation since 2009. He’s been an integral part in the Orioles bullpen as he is the only pitcher Showalter could rely on. Since the departure of Koji Uehara Johnson is the core of the suffering Birds’ pen.
This season, Johnson sports a 5-5 record with an impressive 2.79 ERA in 80.2 IP – a career-high, and on pace for 92.2 innings! Over his 59 appearances, he’s never been given the opportunity to start games and show what he can do on the mound. Johnson features three great pitches in his arsenal – including a 98 MPH fastball with a slider that induces many groundballs off of opponent’s bats.
Skeptics might wonder if Johnson will have the stamina to convert to the rotation after four seasons in the bullpen. Johnson averages 1.2 innings per outing and he’s tossed two innings or more in 17 of his 59 games.
Over Johnson’s last eight appearances, Showalter may be preparing him slowly for a start in the future. He’s pitched three innings on two occasions and 2+ IP in three back-to-back contests. The last time Johnson pitched three or more innings was on April 19th, 2008 against the Yankees when he tossed 3.1 innings and allowed only one base hit.
Not only does Johnson have the ability to toss more than two innings, this season, he’s shown the ability to induce ground balls. Half of his games are at the friendly confines at Oriole Park, so throwing ground balls is an important part of his success. His ground ball to fly ball ratio sits at 1.67 (159 ground ball outs vs. 95 fly balls). The ball flies out of Camden Yards on a hot summer’s night, so if Johnson can keep his ground ball to fly ball ratio lopsided like this, he will have continued success.
Johnson burst onto the scene in 2008 and dazzled the Orioles’ fans and organization. He posted a 2-4 record in 54 appearances and a career-low 2.23 ERA in his first full season with the Birds out of their pen.
In ’08, he gave up just 17 earned runs all season long in 68.2 innings. He averaged over an inning per outing (1.27 innings), and didn’t serve up a single homerun once in his magical year.
Undecided skeptics still might question whether Johnson’s stuff will be as fresh and consistent every five days. This season, on 3-5 days rest, opponents are hitting .268 off of him in 56 at-bats. He’s only allowed four earned runs and has yet to serve up a HR on extended rest.
Throughout the minor leagues, Johnson was used mostly as a starting pitcher. In 144 appearances he’s collected 127 starts over parts of nine minor league seasons. Johnson holds a 46-40 record with a 3.86 ERA in the Birds’ minor league system as he surrendered 310 ER over 723.0 IP. He’s accumulated 148 IP in each of three seasons in the minors (’05-’07).
A Brief History with the Birds
Johnson started his first and only major league game in his 2006 debut against the White Sox – allowing 8 ER in just three innings. He allowed 10 earned total in just five innings of work. Johnson finished the 2009 season as the closer for the Birds, after George Sherrill was traded to the Dodgers.
Johnson struggled a bit in 2009, appearing in a career-high 64 contests with a 4-6 record and 4.11 ERA. Johnson gave up 32 earned runs over his 70.0 innings of work and he yielded 8 HR, compared to zero the previous season.
Last season, the Birds’ placed him on the 60-day disabled list from the end of May throughout most of August with inflammation in his right elbow. In 26 appearances, Johnson sported a 1-1 record with a 3.42 ERA allowing 10 earned runs over his 26.1 innings pitched.
This season, Johnson has not given up more than five runs in a particular month! While that would change greatly if he was a starter, his move to the starting rotation would help the Birds more than it would hurt them.
September is the time to try this move because now he has a bullpen of eager, young arms trying to prove they deserve to be here.
Johnson has proven himself by posting impressive numbers and he deserves a shot at the starting rotation.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.