By Olivia Witherite (@oliviawitherite)
Some are calling him the best closer in the American League or in Major League Baseball. With 20 opportunities to close out games this year, Jim Johnson has gotten the save every time except one.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander hasn’t always been the dominant reliever. He entered the Orioles’ organization in the Gulf Coast League as a starter. He worked his way up the system, starting a total of 127 games of the 144 in which he appeared.
I mean, if you get called up to start a game in 2006 and pitch three innings of eight run ball for a 24.00 ERA, that might be a sign to switch to the ‘pen.
By 2010, he began to appear in more games as a reliever between outings at the Gulf Coast League, Single-A Frederick, Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
Now, Johnson is widely regarded as one of the best shutdown pitchers in the game. Moving from the set-up man role with Alfredo Simon, Koji Uehara and George Sherrill long gone from Baltimore to the closer role, Johnson has been lights out.
On the season, Johnson has pitched to a 1.26 ERA over 28 2/3 innings. In his blown save, he came back to get the win.
In yesterday’s shutout win in Atlanta, Johnson picked up save No. 20 on the season, one behind Chris Perez for most in the majors.
With the Orioles in contention this season, the closer role is that much more important. The Birds are tenacious, and even when they are facing a deficit in late innings, their bats are always threatening. So, while they heat up, they’ll need Johnson to keep the other team cool.
When the O’s drafted Johnson in the fifth round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft, they saw him as a possible starter. They definitely didn’t predict him shutting down the baseball world like this.
But who’s complaining? That question’s rhetorical, so here’s a better one: How many saves can the dominant closer get this season?