Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Should Jim Johnson be the Orioles Future Closer?

It certainly has not been easy for the Orioles in September. Although they defeated the Yankees two games out of three in New York, the team has been forced to deplete some of the roster so they don't risk their future. Such players include Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold, Brian Matusz, and eventually Chris Tillman.

But for the O's, there is still work to be done. One decision that will need to be made is the future of Jim Johnson as Orioles closer.

Tuesday night, the Orioles had an all too familiar fall, leading Toronto 5-2 going into the 8th, allowing two in the 8th, one in the 9th, and one in the 11th to fall 6-5. For Jim Johnson, who blew the one-run lead in the 9th, his status as eventual closer may have to be evaluated. To his credit, in this outing he had the bases loaded and one out, getting out of it with two strikeouts, but he allowed four bases runners in a row, capped off by a hit-by-pitch to bring in the tying run.

Since taking over the closer's role in August after the George Sherrill trade, he has had nine save opportunities, converting only six. His ERA has gone up nearly a full point since taking over the closer role, and his stuff does not look the same since being the setup man, especially his fastball. Johnson had started out well, but recently has struggled at the position.

To his credit, Johnson is still the choice for closer for the remainder of the season. No one else in the bullpen is worth putting there, including Danys Baez and Cla Meredith, both of whom possibly might not be on the team next year. The Orioles will hope Chris Ray can have a good season year from Tommy John surgery, which is the normal recovery period needed for such a surgery, but as of right now he is not effective.

But Kam Mickolio could be another option. Currently he is on the DL and probably is shut down for the rest of the year due to shoulder inflammation, but before his injury he showed some promise. He has shown some closer-like stuff, including a powerful 98 MPH fastball. His walks are a little too high and he struggled in his last few outings, but the Orioles might want to try him out at closer during spring training.

The Orioles will likely not spend millions of dollars trying to buy a closer on the free agent market, so they will need to decide between Johnson, Ray, and Mickolio who will close next year in spring training. Johnson is a great setup man, but the O's have to be careful in using him as the closer.

(Photo credit: AP)

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