Johnson joined Braves to work with McDowell

Johnson joined Braves to work with McDowell

ATLANTA -- When former All-Star closer Jim Johnson began evaluating his best employment options for the upcoming season, he was influenced by former A's teammate Eric O'Flaherty's suggestion that he come to Atlanta to work under the tutelage of Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell.

After exchanging a few phone conversations with McDowell, Johnson opted to sign a one-year deal with the Braves, who are hoping the veteran reliever quickly regains confidence in his sinker, a pitch that deserted him as he struggled with both the A's and Tigers last season.

"I think one of the biggest motivators was coming here and having a chance to work with Roger," Johnson said. "He's been in those situations before where he knows some days [the sinker] acts different and some days it doesn't. But we've just started, so we'll have some time to figure some things out."

Knowing that McDowell relied on a sinker throughout his 12-season career as a reliever, Johnson has been comfortable with much of the information he has exchanged with his new pitching coach over the past couple of months.

As Johnson posted a 7.08 ERA over the 54 appearances he combined to make with Detroit and Oakland last season, he routinely combated what has been described as a "flat sinker." At the same time, the 31-year-old never seemed to grow comfortable with the fact that he was outside the Orioles organization for the first time in his career.

The Braves believe Johnson is capable of developing into one of closer Craig Kimbrel's primary setup relievers. But they have indicated they will likely ease him into high-leverage roles during the early portion of the season.

"I'm not dwelling too much on the past," Johnson said. "I'm focused on right now and where I'm at right now, I'm happy with where I'm at physically and where I'm at with mechanics and strength and training. I feel like I'm where I need to be."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.