The knee-jerk reaction to Jim Johnson’s third straight blown save is to pull him from the closer’s spot for now.
I’m probably in the minority here. But I don’t do it. And I know Orioles manager Buck Showalter won’t do it. He said as much last night when we asked whether there he was absolutely going with Johnson in a save situation on Monday.
“Yeah,” he said. “Come back tomorrow and watch it again.”
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- Alexi Casilla
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Johnson saved 35 regular season games in a row before these three disasters. That should earn him some rope. That said, next close game that’s heading to the ninth, I pitch Johnson but, if possible, I have someone in the pen warming and ready – Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz or even Tommy Hunter, depending on the game situation and which ones had to be used to get to the ninth -- to swoop in if it starts getting testy.
That’s not an ideal scenario, but Johnson isn’t your closer in name only. He got the job because he can do it. And, frankly, you aren’t sure you have anyone else that can.
It’s easy in retrospect to say that Showalter should have kept O’Day in the game Monday or went to Matusz with a group of lefties coming up. I get that Tuesday Morning Managing. There is some logic to it.
But I send Johnson out there again for the next save, and if it doesn’t work a fourth time, then I’m looking at my options. It’s a fine balance between loyalty to what has been successful in the past and managing to win. But you have to consider the way the games were lost.
Granted, Johnson’s outing against the Tampa Bay Rays was ugly. But he gave up four singles to the Padres and a solo homer to the Yankees. He’s missing with his spots, but he’s not getting crushed here. So I give him the benefit of the doubt once more.
Freddy Garcia will be pitching for the Orioles when his turn comes around in Toronto. I wouldn’t have necessarily predicted that heading into Monday night. Or after the first and second innings, when the 36-year-old righty allowed solo homers to Robinson Cano and David Adams, respectively.
But he didn’t allow another run against the Yankees and escaped six innings, giving up three hits, two walks and two runs. He struck out two while throwing 66 pitches, 42 for strikes.
It was vintage Garcia. Nothing overpowering or flashy. Or pretty for that matter. He’s now given the Orioles a chance in two out of four starts. Not a great ratio, but he’ll be back again this weekend.
I received several Twitter questions about why Orioles manager Buck Showalter removed Garcia after six innings with such a low hit and pitch count. Well, Garcia’s command was abandoning him. He hadn’t walked anyone in the game and then gave up two free passes in the sixth. He got out of that inning unscathed because Alexi Casilla turned a great double play.
Sometimes it’s not all about pitch counts; it’s a feel thing. If Garcia’s location is spotty he tends to give up long hits (and homers). In a tight game, Showalter pulled his starter on a high note.
I have no complaints about that decision, either.
However, if I am going to wage criticism at Showalter based on what I saw Monday night, it’s this: Alexi Casilla should have been playing regularly before now. I don’t know all the things that Showalter knows about his players, but Casilla seemed to be the best option at second base as soon as Brian Roberts got hurt in the third game of the season.
Showalter went mainly to Ryan Flaherty with Casilla getting the occasional nod against lefties. Heading into Monday, Flaherty, who was sent to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday after hitting .133, had 25 starts at second base. Casilla had 12 and Yamaico Navarro, who was recalled Tuesday, got three starts.
Neither Flaherty nor Casilla has proven to be a consistent big league hitter. And, in that situation, I go with the better defender, especially on a team that has put a premium on defense. And especially after it was obvious early on that Flaherty was struggling at the plate.
To be fair, Flaherty was not a bad defender. He played a pretty strong second base, much better than I had anticipated. He deserves serious credit for that. Given his offensive struggles, though, Casilla was the better overall package in my estimation.
Navarro has struggled defensively in his brief look with the Orioles, so Casilla should get the opportunity now to play every day and see what he can do.
On Monday, he scored from first on a double to left center and he made two real good defensive plays, including that double play in the sixth, in which he caught a smoking one-hopper fell to the grass and delivered a quick throw to J.J. Hardy to start the DP.
Who knows if he’ll do anything with the bat this season – he is a .249 career hitter – but I’ll take the glove guy. And I would have taken the glove guy in April, too.