DETROIT — After going from All-Star closer to out of baseball in four months, Jim Johnson isn’t about to demand a role at the back of the Tigers’ bullpen.
"I will do whatever Brad needs me to do," he said. "I’m just happy to be here, especially in the middle of a pennant race. This is exactly what every player wants."
Johnson put up 101 saves for Baltimore in 2012-13, but his performance plummeted after an offseason trade to Oakland. This season, he posted a 7.14 ERA in 38 games, only managed two saves and two holds, and allowed more than two runners per inning. The A’s finally put them out of their misery by releasing him on August 1.
Five days later, with his own bullpen in tatters, Tigers president Dave Dombrowski decided to take a flyer on Johnson, much as he had done earlier in the season with Joel Hanrahan. While the Hanrahan move didn’t work — he hasn’t been able to get healthy — things were smoother with Johnson. After four outings in Triple-A, the Tigers brought him up Saturday night.
"The reports we were getting from Toledo were very encouraging, and his pitches were getting better each time out, which is exactly what we wanted to see," Brad Ausmus said Sunday. "In his last outing, he looked like the pitcher that was so good for the Orioles."
Johnson said he’s still not sure what went wrong in Oakland, but he was also happy with the way he pitched in Toledo.
"All year, I was battling myself when it came to getting into any kind of rhythm," he said. "My first couple outings, I had to knock some rust off, but after that, I was able to find that rhythm again. Now I’m ready."
Ausmus wasn’t giving nany hints about how he plans to use Johnson, but he’s happy to add him to the back end of a bullpen that already includes Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain and, once he’s healthy again, Joakim Soria.
"There’s a certain mentality that you need to pitch the ninth inning — I’ve always believed that," Ausmus said. "There are pitchers who can breeze through the seventh inning, but can’t handle the ninth. By adding Jim, we’ve now got three proven closers, and a fourth guy who can pitch late in Joba. That gives us a lot of options."
There are still a lot of questions, starting with Johnson and Nathan being able to regain the form that made them so successful, but if things come together, Detroit could finally have the bullpen they need.