The Detroit Tigers picked up Jim Johnson just 5 days after the Oakland Athletics released him August 1. The Tigers could stand to take the risk on the former closer, turned hardly used reliever with Oakland paying the rest of his $10 million salary. Detroit signed him to a minor league contract and after bringing him up they just had to pay him a pro-rated amount of the league minimum so yes, they could take the chance.
However, should they have taken that chance is the real question. Johnson, who had two 50 save seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, was traded to Oakland in the off season. A week into the season he was removed from the closer role and things continued to go downhill for Johnson from there.
While in Oakland Johnson pitched just 40 innings, giving up 60 hits and 32 earned runs leaving him with a 7.14 ERA. As previously noted he was finally released by the team in early August and was soon picked up by Detroit.
Detroit has had some bullpen issues this season. They had recently picked up Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers but Soria almost immediately ended up on the disabled list after a couple rough outings. Saturday, after pitching just 4.2 innings in the minor leagues and allowing two runs, Johnson was called up from Triple-A Toledo. According to Tigers manager Brad Ausmus,
“Sometimes it’s just a change of scenery. His velocity was good the whole time, even when he was in Oakland and he scuffled. It was more about location. It wasn’t about his stuff. … He had a two-inning outing on Wednesday. I talked to one of our scouts and they said he threw really well.”
Johnson met with the team and the media before the Tigers 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night. He said,
“I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be to help the ballclub here … Pitching is such a timing and rhythm thing, it’s just getting that constant work, getting that rhythm back and I’m excited to help them out.
The 4.2 innings he pitched in Triple-A isn’t exactly constant work but he went on to say,
“I think a change of scenery is good. That’s a common (thing) that people like to say, but yes obviously with the way things went the first part of the season for me this is going to be a lot more fun.”
Unfortunately things were not that fun for the 31-year old Johnson Saturday night. He came into the game to pitch the sixth inning and on his first pitch gave up a double to Chris Taylor.
So while both runs were not attributed to Johnson, that is still what one would call a bit of a rough outing. He was taken out of the game with two on and two out.
It’s impossible to say for sure that a change of scenery didn’t work or that Johnson wasn’t throwing the ball better than he had in Oakland but it doesn’t look good.
Sure, it was just a chance that the Tigers have taken by bringing on Johnson but it appears to be one they probably should not have taken.