A New Captain Chaos? Johnson’s struggles continue in walk-off loss vs. Yankees

July 05, 2013 | Barry Kamen

After watching the majority of tonight’s game, two things are very apparent:

1) Two walk-off losses in a row hurt…a lot

2) Jim Johnson: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

The Baltimore Orioles are in the midst of a summer swoon. After losing two of three to the last-place Chicago White Sox earlier in the week, the Birds dropped the series opener at Yankee Stadium in heart-breaking fashion. On a night when starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez did not have control of all of his pitches (5BB in 6 IP), he was able to limit the New York Yankees to just one run in the 4th inning. Both Troy Patton and Darren O’Day delivered scoreless innings, allowing Buck Showalter to turn the game over to Major League Baseball’s saves leader in Jim Johnson. Tonight’s bottom of the 9th is one we would all like to forget, as 2 hits, 2 errors, and 2 runs came across the plate, allowing the Yankees to win a game that the Orioles, in truth, had no business winning.

While Orioles fans said a tearful goodbye to Kevin Gregg last September, they thought that had seen the last of Captain Chaos. This season, it appears that Johnson, despite his 29 saves, has worn the cape with a little too much pride. In tonight’s game, Johnson simply looked uncomfortable. With the bases loaded, he delivered a four pitch walk to Travis Hafner, and then fell behind 2-0 to Vernon Wells, who went on to deliver the game-winning single. While blown saves happen, what makes this game frustrating was HOW it happened. Johnson threw 18 pitches, recorded just one out, and only 7 were strikes. After Hafner’s walk, I am surprised that Wells even lifted the bat off of his shoulders. One pitch did not end this game; balls that were not even close to the strike zone did.

What should the Orioles next move be? Is Jim Johnson out as Orioles closer? From watching this team, it is reasonable to suggest that the Orioles should consider a “closer-by-committee” until the All-Star break. When Tommy Hunter isn’t getting boomed by Adam Dunn, he has looked solid at the back-end of the bullpen. Personally, I am high on Jon Rauch, who the Orioles recently signed to a minor league deal. With over 60 career saves, Rauch could fill a number of different roles. If Showalter feels that Hunter should be the new closer, imagine the 7th and 8th inning duties being handled by the submariner O’Day, followed by the 6 foot 11 inch Rauch. While Jim Johnson continues to baffle Orioles’ fans, maybe it is time for the Orioles to baffle hitters with a major bullpen shake-up.