I’ve read some speculation that the Baltimore Orioles may give Jim Johnson the chance to try out for a starting role during Spring Training of 2011. I’m not too sure of how true these rumors are, but I don’t like them.

Jim Johnson needs to remain in the bullpen, in the set-up role, until he proves he can no longer handle said role.

Johnson burst onto the scene by fitting in nicely in the O’s bullpen in 2008, and soon proved to be one of the most effective set-up men in baseball, finishing the year with a 2.23 ERA.

The following year, his ERA rose to 4.11, which many attributed to the fact that he wasn’t capable of handling the closer’s role, taking it over after the club sent their closer at the time, George Sherrill, over to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline.

This past season was up-and-down for the young starter-turned-reliever, as he began the season trying to pitch through an injury in his arm, something that he soon realized wasn’t a good idea due to his ineffective outings.

Once he returned, however, he pitched very well, returning to his 2008-2009 pre-closer by default form and allowing only one run during his final 10 outings of the season, lowering his ERA to a respectable 3.42.

Now that he is healthy and proved so during the end of the 2010 season, I feel as though he deserves to be handed back his set-up spot, with the understanding that it’s his to lose.

He has shown he can thrive in that position, and with the Orioles’ lack of consistency coming from their bullpen much of the past decade, they need a reliable eighth inning guy.

Taking Jim Johnson out of his comfort zone would be stupid; why put him under the pressure of proving himself in a new role when he’s already comfortable and effective in the one he’s been in the past few years?

And with the large amount of young, exceptionally good starting pitching talent the Orioles have had arrive to the majors over the last year and a half, including two other talented, yet lesser prospects in starters-turned-relievers David Hernandez and Jason Berken, plus President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail’s desire to acquire a veteran starter to hep Jeremy Guthrie lead the young staff next year, they hardly need another young starter possibility to worry about, especially with the questions in their bullpen.

Leave Jim Johnson as the Orioles go-to set-up guy, unless he proves he can’t handle it anymore.

It’ll make life easier for him, the other young starters going into Spring Training looking for a starting role, the O’s bullpen that needs plenty of work, and Buck Showalter.

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