Jim Johnson is having one of the worst stretches of his 12-year major league career, a slump so bad that Braves manager Brian Snitker indicated it might be time to shut him down for a bit after Johnson gave up four runs for the second consecutive outing Wednesday and blew an eighth-inning lead in a loss to the Mariners.
But after the team’s day off Thurday, Snitker said before Friday night’s series opener against the Rockies that Johnson would keep pitching and try to work through his struggles. The sinkerballer’s sinker isn’t sinking and his 5.69 ERA is the second-highest of his career and climbing steadily in recent weeks.
“Just work through it,” said Snitker, adding that when rosters are expanded Sept. 1, Johnson could get a break if he needs one, since the Braves will have more options in the bullpen. “He had a break (recently), they were working in the bullpen and just hoping it would play into something the other day, and it didn’t. He’s going to keep working at him.
“Him and (pitching coach Chuck Hernandez), they’ve been in there looking (at video) and he’s been on the bump (mound) a little bit probably more than normal before the workouts and things like that. We’ll just kind of keep hanging with him and see.”
Snitker said he would’ve used Jose Ramirez in the eighth inning Wednesday, if the manager hadn’t decided beforehand that Ramirez, closer Arodys Vizcaino and left-hander Sam Freeman would get a rest after each pitched Monday and Tuesday in the first two games of the Mariners series.
“But you need more than two or three guys to cover those innings, and Jim’s the guy with experience who has been through all that,” Snitker said. “Some of these younger guys are probably going to get a little baptism by fire in those situations the rest of the season. I don’t know if they’re equipped for it yet, but we’re going to find out.”
Johnson, a former 50-save closer, has been through it all, but rarely has the 34-year-old been this bad for such an extended stretch. He signed a two-year, $10 million contract extension on the final day of the 2016 season that included a $1 million bonus and salaries of $4.5 million this season and again in 2018.
Braves lefty Ian Krol (5.75) and Johnson (5.69) have the seventh- and eighth-highest ERAs among major league relievers, and Johnson remained the major league blown saves leader with nine before Friday, even though he was dropped from the closer role at the end of July.
In one-run games, Johnson has allowed 25 hits and 13 walks for a .301 average and .388 on-base percentage.
In eight August appearances he has a 16.50 ERA, .433 opponents’ average and 1.171 opponents’ OPS, after posting a 6.48 ERA, .306 opponents’ average and .854 opponents’ OPS in 10 July appearances.
When Johnson converted seven of eight saves in May, he had a 2.25 ERA, .143 opponents’ average and .414 opponents’ OPS in 13 appearances for the month. But in 30 appearances since the beginning of June, he has a 7.57 ERA, .302 opponents’ average and .847 opponents’ OPS, allowing 35 hits, 23 runs, four homers and 15 walks in 27 1/3 innings.
In 17 appearances dating to July 2, he has an 11.48 ERA and 1.041 opponents’ OPS, allowing 24 hits, 17 runs and 10 walks with 12 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.