Baltimore Orioles: Should Jim Johnson have been pulled?


The question posed in the title is obviously rhetorical in nature. However if you’re truly going to ask that question following yesterday’s 6-5 walk off loss in Toronto, it would have to be the follow up. The real question would have to be should Jim Johnson have been in the game to begin with. I think most people would answer affirmatively, especially after Johnson shut down Toronto in Saturday’s save. However keep in mind that when teams go to their closer they rarely do so with someone else warming up in the bullpen.

Courtesy of John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Your closer is supposed to be just that; the guy that closes out the game. Granted Johnson blew this one (his fourth blown save in five attempts). However it’s easy enough to say they should have brought Patton or Steve Johnson into the game. But with nobody warming up behind (Jim) Johnson, how exactly could Showalter have suddenly just gone to the ‘pen and lifted Johnson? So again, the real question is whether or not you believe Johnson should have been in the game. If the answer is yes, I was comfortable with them bringing Johnson in, then you should know that Showalter couldn’t have gone to the pen again. (It’s also worth mentioning that especially on the road, managers will rarely get anyone up off the bench in the ‘pen because the home team gets the last at-bat.)

Unfortunately the Baltimore Orioles wasted a great pitching performance by Miguel Gonzalez, who gave up one run. Gonzalez’s line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K. The only issue with Gonzalez’s performance is of course that he only went 5.2 innings yesterday, however bear in mind that with Toronto winning in walk off fashion against the Orioles’ closer that bore very little relevance in the outcome. The Birds took a 2-0 lead in the second on Matt Wieters‘ RBI-double and Danny Valencia‘s fielder’s choice-RBI. Brett Lawrie‘s sacrifice fly-RBI in the fourth cut that lead to 2-1, however Adam Jones put the Orioles ahead 3-1 with his fourth home run in as many games at Rogers Centre in the top of the seventh.

What will go forgotten in this game is Tommy Hunter‘s bend but don’t break effort in the eighth inning. Granted Hunter loaded the bases and gave up a run to cut the Orioles’ lead to 3-2. However Hunter induced Melky Cabrera to ground into a force out at home plate, and Jose Bautista grounded back to Hunter for a putout at first base to end the inning. Hunter unfortunately bare handed the ball on the skip, and immediately went to the Orioles’ clubhouse for x-rays (which came back negative). Nevertheless, had the O’s been able to win the game that effort would be standing out as huge in the grand scheme of the ballgame.

The Orioles thought they had all but put the game out of reach in the 9th inning when Matt Wieters doubled home Nick Markakis and Adam Jones. That put the Orioles ahead 5-2, and in a good position going to the last of the ninth. However they aren’t the only team to play until the final out. J.P. Arencibia singled home Juan Encarnacion to cut the Orioles’ lead to 5-3, and Adam Lind scored on a fielder’s choice. However Munenori Kawasaki‘s two-RBI double scored two runs off of Johnson, and the Orioles fell in walk off manner, 6-5.

I’m not suggesting that the Orioles and their fans shouldn’t be concerned about Johnson’s ability to close out games. Not only has he blown four of five saves, but he blew a three-run lead today. However let’s not forget that the O’s didn’t get swept in Toronto this weekend by any means. They lost a game they had no business losing, however that happens in a division as competitive as the AL East. Some people are going to read this and be pretty angry in that it comes across as if I’m saying that Orioles fans should sit back and accept things as they are. I get that, and I understand it. However at Birds Watcher we try to look at things in a more cerebral manner as opposed to emotional. Going back to that rhetorical question, should Showalter have yanked Johnson when things went south? Um, again…that’s only the follow up, because if the answer is yes what you’re really saying is that Johnson shouldn’t have even been in the game.

I actually thought that at the beginning of his outing Johnson’s sinker was sinking fairly well. I also think that things snowballed on him a bit, and he found himself in situations where he couldn’t throw all of his pitches. In other words, he got behind in the count. Pitching from ahead in the count is imperative to closers, and Johnson is no exception. The Orioles this afternoon will travel to our nation’s capital to take on the Washington Nationals in game one of the “Battle of the Beltways.” Jason Hammel will start against Washington’s Gio Gonzalez. The Orioles will need Hammel to go as deep as he can this afternoon, as the bullpen might be short-handed with Tommy Hunter having bare handed that ball yesterday, and Johnson having thrown 37 pitches.

Courtesy of Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

With all of that said, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our nation’s veterans on this Memorial Day, 2013. My late grandfather, Dr. Anthony Launi, served in WWII and was later a catcher in the Washington Senators’ minor league system before settling in Bethesda, MD to become a dentist. As Americans, we should all take time today to thank our service members who serve so bravely here at home and abroad. If not for their sacrifices, we wouldn’t be able to argue who should have been pulled out of the game and when. To all of our service members, we tip our caps to you today. May God Bless the United States of America.