Jim Johnson throws a pitch in the eighth inning during in a game against the Phillies on July 30. Johnson was removed from the closer role after blowing a league-high nine saves.
Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Braves’ ex-closer Johnson: ‘I know progress is being made’

It’s been a tough two months for the Braves’ former closer Jim Johnson, but he remains confident he’s improving.

Johnson has a 16.50 ERA in August. His nine blown saves rank No. 1 in the Major League Baseball despite losing his closer duties to Arodys Vizcaino in July.

Johnson’s latest gaff came Wednesday with the Mariners series on the line. Johnson entered in the eighth inning with a 5-4 lead. He faced four batters, all went on to score and the Braves lost 9-6.

“Just focus on executing the pitch,” Johnson said. “That’s all I can focus on, don’t worry. Some results are unfavorable but if I just work on mechanics stuff and trying to execute more pitches, that’s all I can control. You know, it’s hard when it’s results oriented, but I know progress is being made.”

When the sinker isn’t sinking, life is difficult for Johnson. He’s had stretches similar to this in the past, but he’s struggled in a large sample size since June 2, pitching to an 11.48 ERA in 17 appearances.

“I mean, there’s a couple things going on mechanics-wise and stuff like that,” he said. “But all in all it comes down to executing pitches and making quality strikes. Just the things that all pitchers are trying to do. Throw strikes, locate your fastball, just stuff like that. But mechanics are going to make a difference and getting some reps in.”

And still, Braves manager Brian Snitker has allowed Johnson to work through it. It might’ve cost the Braves a series-win over the Mariners, but Johnson is thankful for Snitker’s faith.

“Snit’s great,” Johnson said. “He’s given me ample opportunity to come out of it. Things just haven’t gone my way, so I appreciate him having my back. That’s just one less thing I have to worry about. He just lets me worry about it and I appreciate that.”

Snitker alluded to Johnson possibly taking some time off if he needs it when rosters expand in September. After considering temporarily shutting him down, Johnson will receive further chances to redeem himself.

If nothing else, Johnson said maybe his struggles could help prepare some of the younger players in the clubhouse. He’s gotten used to being surrounded by – and tutoring - the up-and-comers.

“It’s been about the story for the last, what, five years now?” Johnson said. “It’s every clubhouse I’ve been in. But hopefully there’s young guys that’ll come up, they’ll have success, they’ll struggle, but they’ll be better for that struggle. You know, if them watching me going through hard times can help them prepare themselves, I mean, that’s just the way the game works sometimes.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.