August 5, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Tigers sign reliever Jim Johnson to minor-league deal

The A's released Jim Johnson on Friday. (Duane Burleson / Getty Images)

New York — Jim Johnson appealed to the Tigers, who signed him to a Triple A contract Tuesday, for the same reason Joel Hanrahan once did.

He’s been there, saved that.

Johnson not only was a big league closer before falling apart this year, but in 2012-13, he saved 101 (51-50) games for the Orioles.

That’s 14 more in a two-year span than the most games Joe Nathan ever saved in back-to-back seasons.

And 28 more than the most Joakim Soria saved in back-to-back seasons.

As for Hanrahan, who was the first “why not?” bullpen gamble this season — albeit, a gamble that won’t pay off — he had 76 saves for the Pirates in 2011-12. But it looks like 2013 and 2014 will be almost a complete loss for him because of the Tommy John surgery he underwent in May of last year.

The difference between Hanrahan and Johnson, however, is that the Tigers were merely hoping Hanrahan would get his arm strength back at some point this season. But they’ve seen for themselves strength is not an issue for Johnson, a 31-year-old right-hander, who looked two years ago as if he were headed for a stellar career as a late-blooming closer.

That projection ran aground with Johnson’s problems this season for Oakland, for whom he failed miserably, especially at home where fans understandably got on his case.

Johnson was 0-2 with a 12.86 ERA in 17 appearances with the A’s in Oakland.

The Tigers feasted on him twice. In the seventh inning of a game they would win 5-4 in Oakland on May 29, the Tigers stretched a one-run lead to three runs by scoring twice off Johnson in the seventh inning.

And on July 7, leading 3-2 in the sixth at Comerica Park, the Tigers pounded Johnson for four runs on four hits in one-third of an inning.

But when the A’s just flat-out released Johnson on Aug. 1, look who said they were interested in him — and eventually signed him.

“We were looking for bullpen help and our scouts have seen him,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said before Tuesday night’s game at Yankee Stadium. “He’s shown arm strength and good stuff this year, but his location was not up to par.”

In fact, Johnson’s control almost completely abandoned him. He walked 23 in 4013 innings, two more walks than what he issued in 91 innings in 2011. When he was cut loose, he had just two saves and was 4-2 with a 7.14 ERA.

“But we saw some things that we liked,” Dombrowski said. “And he’s going to come here (to Yankee Stadium today) to throw on his way to Toledo.

“He plans to have a couple of outings in Toledo, then we’ll go from there. But we’re not signing him to have him go to Triple A. We’re hopeful of having him help us here at some point.”

Do the Tigers like anything more than his arm strength?

“We like his stuff,” Dombrowski said. “He’s throwing the ball as hard as ever. His breaking ball was fine, but his location was not good this year.

“He’s been a very successful major league pitcher, as you know, the last couple of years. But sometimes guys get in a spiral that is tough to get out of. Maybe a change of scenery will be beneficial. Occasionally it is. But, again, we’re not doing it for the long term.”

In other words, Johnson needs to show something fast at Toledo. That’s usually what is meant when a general manager says “we’ll go from there.”

It’ll only be more of a look-see if Johnson is impressive right away.

“We’re looking to help our bullpen anyway we can,” Dombrowski said. “We’re not looking for him to be our closer or set-up — but to mix in with the guys we have.”