Into the middle of May, Jim Johnson was untouchable, on a streak of 35 consecutive saves. Fast forward a week and he's a struggling closer looking for a break. That's life in the ninth inning. It's time for an audit in Baltimore.
Johnson suffered a couple of blown saves last week, mostly death by a thousand cuts (with one homer mixed in). His squandered opportunity from Monday came on one pitch, a plate-centered fastball that Travis Hafner deposited into the Oriole Park seats in left-center field. Baltimore eventually lost the game in ten innings, its sixth straight defeat.
"We will figure it out," Johnson told the team's official site. "I'll figure it out. There's no other option."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter quickly gave Johnson a vote of confidence after Monday's loss. "Come back tomorrow and watch it again, he was one pitch away," Showalter said to Orioles.com. "Jimmy's a very consistent human being. Professional and a great teammate. We didn't do enough to win tonight. ... It's frustrating for him, but he wasn't the only one who could come out of this game a little frustrated."
Johnson's velocity was fine against the Yanks and he opened the appearance strongly, throwing two fastballs past Robinson Cano. Eventually Cano was retired on a harmless ground out, but Johnson fell behind Hafner 3-1 before the game-altering homer. Johnson narrowly missed on the preceding pitch; inconsistent command has been his biggest issue during this slump.
If you feel the need to hedge against Johnson, Darren O'Day seems like a good place to start. O'Day has been a primary bridge to Johnson this year and carries a 1.74 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 20.2 innings (nine walks, 22 strikeouts). The submariner is more effective against right-handed batters, but it's not like the platoon advantage crushes him (.242/.299/.413 for his career). The boys over at Delta House love him.
A couple of recycled starters, righty Tommy Hunter (1.54/0.81) and lefty Brian Matusz (2.65/0.65), are also throwing the ball well. Maybe we'll see one of them get a matchup save here or there. Pedro Strop (5.19/1.44) was a trusted bullpen member last year but he's been relegated to low-leverage spots for most of 2013. He wound up taking Monday's loss, in part because O'Day had already pitched in the eighth.
Add it all up and I'm holding Johnson's value stable in most formats; he's built up trust over the last year and a half. O'Day would be the hedge play I'd make if needing to speculate, though I generally view handcuffing as more trouble than it's worth - especially if roster space is limited. Hunter and Matusz could be worth a try simply for the quality of relief innings, but Showalter doesn't seem to trust Strop right now (with good reason).
• Patrick Corbin has become one of the breakout stars of 2013. His Monday turn was the best yet, a complete-game three-hitter at Coors Field, of all places (3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 10 K). Roll the tape, have a look. He's now 7-0 with a 1.44 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, collecting 51 strikeouts against 18 walks. The Diamondbacks have won all nine of his starts.
It's silly to shout "regression!" because no one expects Corbin to keep those pretty ratios; he was an ordinary pitcher last year (4.54/1.33) and wasn't a hot prospect. There's good stuff here but no one would call it electric. The key question is this: regression to what level?
Corbin's zesty ground-ball bias (49.7 percent) helps to keep him out of trouble, but that 3.9 HR/FB rate will eventually come up, probably by a fair amount. Let's check in with the ERA estimators: tERA says 3.42, SIERA spits out 3.67 and xFIP rests at 3.59. Those seem like reasonable targets to me. Season to taste. The Padres and Cubs are next up on the schedule.
• Julio Teheran showed up on most sleeper lists after a terrific March, but the balloon quickly popped when the real games started (13 runs over three starts, 7.31 ERA). And now, just to remind us how unpredictable pitchers are (especially young pitchers), Teheran is cruising again. He's won three of his last five starts, allowing just seven runs over 33.2 innings.
No one throws you a parade for stopping the Minnesota offense, but nonetheless we had to be impressed with Teheran's victory Monday (8.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K). His strikeout rate gives you reason to pause (just 5.4/9), but keep in mind he's not walking anyone (1.6/9) and the ground-ball rate rests at 47 percent. The Mets and Nationals, two unthreatening matchups, are next up for Teheran. You can kick the tires in 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• Hopefully you were occupied Monday afternoon and didn't get to suffer through the Mariners-Indians bullpen debacle, pitch-by-pitch. The final three Cleveland relievers (Pestano, Perez, Smith) each allowed a homer, and yet somehow the Indians won the game in ten innings, thanks to a Yan Gomes walk-off homer. (If anyone had the foresight to stream Gomes - two homers - in a mixer, take an extended victory lap for the rest of the week). Sizzling Cleveland now holds a 2.5-game lead in the AL Central.
Tom Wilhelmsen's blown save came because of his own fielding error on what should have been the final play of the game. His gig is safe, and I don't see any grave reason for Perez owners to worry either. It was nice of Scott Kazmir to get knocked around (3 IP, 7 H, 5 R) so everyone can go back to normal routines.
Speed Round: The Marlins plan to use "everybody" at closer, manager Mike Redmond told beat writer Joe Capozzi. This not only means Steve Cishek and Mike Dunn, but apparently retread Chad Qualls as well. The Marlins didn't need a closer Monday as an eighth-inning rally broke out; Qualls worked the final inning (and likely would have gotten the save chance if it came to pass). … Jake Odorizzi's first start was ordinary, but not terrible: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K at Toronto. I can't see using him against the Yankees on the weekend, however. R.A. Dickey grabbed the win for the Jays, his third solid turn in a row. … Michael Cuddyer (neck) could be ready to rejoin the Rockies come Friday, so we'll enjoy Eric Young Jr. while we can. … Ryan Howard (knee) had a cortisone shot on the weekend and didn't play Monday. … Cole Hamels allowed just two runs and struck out 10 and nonetheless took another loss, dropping to 1-7. He's up against Washington on Sunday. … Ryan Vogelsong's strong turn quickly turned sour during an at-bat: he broke his right hand and figures to miss 6-8 weeks. Chad Gaudin might be the replacement starter in the interim. … Johnny Cueto had early control problems in his return to the rotation, but eventually he settled in and grabbed a victory (5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 8 K). The Q faces the Cubs, and comebacking Matt Garza, on the weekend. … Ike Davis went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, another par for the 2013 course. Intriguing farmhand Andrew Brown (oblique) landed on the DL on Monday, so he's not an immediate option. … Mark Teixeira (wrist) played in a simulated game Monday and went 1-for-2 (according to Teixeira's own Twitter feed). That's life on the rehab trail; sometimes you have to be your own journalist. Maybe he'll be ready at the end of the month, but a week or two into June seems more likely. The first-place Yankees don't have to rush him back into the mix. … Carlos Ruiz (hamstring) landed on the DL while A.J. Pierzynski (oblique) came off the list.