Veteran reliever will enter Spring Training with chance to retain closer role
By Pat James
ATLANTA -- Jim Johnson will have an opportunity to remain in Atlanta's bullpen for two more seasons.
Before beating the Tigers, 1-0, in their regular-season finale Sunday afternoon, the Braves announced they signed Johnson to a two-year contract extension that runs through the end of the 2018 season. Financial terms were not immediately revealed.
"It was something we had worked on for about a month," said Atlanta general manager John Coppolella. "We saw the job that J.J. did, and we felt like he would be a big part of our team in 2017 and 2018 as we look to get back to being a playoff-caliber club."
This marks the third straight year in which Johnson has signed a contract with the Braves. The team inked the reliever to a deal ahead of the 2015 season before trading him to the Dodgers midway through the year. He then returned to Atlanta as a free agent last winter.
During his tenure with the Braves, Johnson has revitalized his career while working with pitching coach Roger McDowell. The 33-year-old reliever struggled at the beginning of this season, but he produced a 1.80 ERA and converted 19 of 21 save opportunities over his past 50 innings entering Sunday, dating back to June 3.
The relationships Johnson has built in Atlanta as well as the success the team has recently experienced, going 34-27 since July 26, played influential roles in his decision to return.
"Working with Roger over the past couple of years has been beneficial to me, and obviously the respect [manager Brian Snitker] gets from the guys and how he's done a great job this year," Johnson said. "I have no say in [if Snitker will be retained], but I think you know kind of where I lean to. And obviously the guys who are coming up.
"I look at it this way, this last year has been a development year for the organization and I think now it turns into this is about winning and competing consistently. I'm excited about that chapter."
After Arodys Vizcaino strained his right oblique in July, Johnson assumed closer duties. Johnson said he'll pitch in any role the team asks going forward, while Coppolella added the veteran will be in a position to be Atlanta's closer entering Spring Training.
With Johnson at the back of the bullpen, Atlanta's relievers entered Sunday with a 2.84 ERA and eight wins over the past 27 games, a sign of the development the 'pen has undergone since the start of the season.
"I think a lot of it was there were a lot of guys who were kind of pressed into out of more necessity rather than earning it to get to this level," said Johnson about the growth he's seen in the bullpen. "So now, I think things have kind of settled down over the past couple of months, and you kind of see the picture that's presenting itself to everybody."
And for the foreseeable future, Johnson will be a major part of that picture.
Pat James is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.