It is no secret that the Detroit Tigers‘ bullpen has scuffled in 2014, posting a 4.39 ERA which is 28th in MLB and a .274 BAA that ranks 29th in baseball. In a low-risk effort to help bolster the bullpen, the Tigers signed Jim Johnson to a minor league deal in early August after he was released by the Oakland Athletics.
Johnson struggled in Oakland, recording a 7.14 ERA and a 2.06 WHIP, but he was very solid during his years with the Baltimore Orioles, particularly from 2012-13 when he posted a combined ERA of 2.72 and racked up 101 saves.
The Tigers called Johnson up on Aug. 16, and although he had a rather shaky debut against the Seattle Mariners the following day, he has been better as of late. Johnson has allowed zero hits and zero earned runs for the Tigers in his last 3.2 innings pitched. If his latest outings are a sign of things to come, it will be an enormous boost for the Tigers’ beleaguered bullpen.
If Johnson can continue to perform well, he could also give the Tigers another viable, experienced option in the closer’s role. Current closer Joe Nathan remains a serious question mark, even though he did manage to put together a 1-2-3 performance against the New York Yankees on Aug. 26. Clean innings have seemingly been few and far between for Nathan these days.
The Tigers also have another closing option in newly-acquired Joakim Soria, but he is still on the disabled list with an oblique injury and his return date still remains uncertain. Soria also struggled a bit after joining the Tigers, posting a 10.38 ERA and a 2.77 WHIP in six outings.
Given that the Tigers have stuck with Nathan for this long, however, it is probably safe to say that he will remain the Tigers’ closer as long as the wheels do not completely fall off. That being said, it is always good to have backup options. Jose Valverde‘s meltdown in the 2012 postseason should still be rather fresh on the minds of Tigers fans.
If Johnson can continue to pitch well, he will be a great weapon out of the Tigers’ bullpen, and he could also give the team a little bit of a safety net in the closer’s role down the stretch and in the postseason if the Tigers are fortunate enough to get there.