Tigers hope Jim Johnson can bolster bullpen, despite struggles in debut

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Tigers manager Brad Ausmus indicated before the game that with veteran Jim Johnson now on board and Joaquin Soria (oblique strain) due back next Sunday, the bullpen is set.

No other reinforcements are planned.

“We’ve had periods where we’ve been a little inconsistent; probably more inconsistent than normal,” Ausmus said. “The truth is, these are the guys in our pen and we need them to pitch well the next six weeks. Whatever inconsistencies we’ve had we need to iron out.”

Johnson, who posted 101 saves for the Orioles in 2012 and 2013 before scuffling in Oakland this year, feels like he’s ironed out whatever was ailing him during his eight-day, five-inning stint in Toledo.

“The last outing I threw down there felt very similar to how I’ve thrown the ball last year and before,” he said. “The ball was coming out crisp. The first couple outings there was a little rust but each time out things got better and better.

“I feel like I am where I need to be to help this ball club.”

He threw the ball far better in his debut Sunday than the results would indicate. He was touched for three runs and two hits in two-thirds of an inning, but two of the runs scored after Rajai Davis dropped a two-out fly ball.

“He’s still got really good stuff,” catcher Alex Avila said. “His stuff hasn’t left him. It’s just a matter of finding some consistency and being able to work ahead of the hitters.”

Johnson’s struggles in Oakland — 7.14 ERA and a WHIP of 2.058 in 38 appearances — were more a function of command and control. His fastball was hitting 95 mph regularly Sunday, with sinking movement.

“It wasn’t like it was one thing or another,” Johnson said. “It was just, pitching is such a timing and rhythm thing. It’s just getting the consistent work and getting the rhythm back.”

The change of scenery helps, too.

“Yeah, I think so,” Johnson said. “I mean, that’s a common thing people like to say, but the way things went the first part of the season, this is going to be more fun.”

Role in flux

Ausmus said Johnson’s role has yet to be determined but for now, he expects to use him in the sixth and seventh innings. Joba Chamberlain will remain the eighth-inning set-up man and Joe Nathan remains the closer.

“Jim has pitched in high-pressure situations before and that experience helps,” Ausmus said. “With Soria, we have four pitchers who have pitched in the back of the bullpen.”

In fact, there are 674 major-league saves between Chamberlain, Johnson, Soria and Nathan.

“It doesn’t matter,” Johnson said of his prospective role with the Tigers. “I am here to help any way I can.”