8/17/2014 12:03 A.M. ET
Tigers call up veteran Johnson to aid 'pen
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Two weeks after being released by Oakland, Jim Johnson is headed back to the big leagues. The Tigers announced they will call up the former O's and A's closer from Triple-A Toledo and put him in their bullpen Sunday, trying to add a veteran arm to a late-inning staff that has had its struggles.
Johnson is not expected to reprise the closer's role that earned him back-to-back 50-save seasons the past two years in Baltimore. For now, at least, the Tigers will try to figure out how much Johnson can help them, and where his pitching stands after a rough half-season in Oakland.
The A's released Johnson on Aug. 1 after his fall from Oakland's closer at season's start to little-used reliever at the back of the bullpen by July. It was a stunning turn after Johnson recorded 51- and 50-save seasons in Baltimore over the previous two years, leading the Majors both times.
Johnson gave up 60 hits and 23 walks over 40 1/3 innings, resulting in 32 earned runs, a 7.14 ERA, a .353 batting average against and .911 OPS allowed. He gave up five ninth-inning runs over his first two outings -- both losses, one a blown save -- and was on watch ever since.
The Tigers -- who have been searching for relief help nearly all season -- signed Johnson to a Minor League contract a week and a half ago, hoping to find more of the Baltimore form than the Oakland version. With Joel Hanrahan all but certain not to be available this season, Johnson -- who just turned 31 years old in June -- provided a chance at a veteran arm with some velocity behind him.
Johnson pitched in four outings at Toledo. He gave up two runs, one earned, on two hits in two-thirds of an inning last Friday before tossing back-to-back hitless performances, including two perfect innings Wednesday night.
The Tigers seemed prepared to call him up then, but he asked for one more outing to fine-tune some things, allowing a run on two hits in one inning with a strikeout Friday.
The Tigers will be responsible for the prorated portion of the Major League minimum salary on Johnson. The A's paid the remainder of Johnson's $10 million salary for this year to release him.
To make room for Johnson on the 25-man roster, the Tigers optioned reliever Melvin Mercedes back to Triple-A Toledo, having called him up Wednesday when Johnson wanted one more outing.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated another reliever, Kevin Whelan, for assignment, having purchased his contract for a fresh arm out of the bullpen Monday before optioning him back to Toledo a day later.
After impressive debut, Mercedes optioned
DETROIT -- Once upon a time this season, Melvin Mercedes looked like he was being put on a fast track to the big leagues. Then his struggles at Triple-A Toledo seemingly had him destined to spend the year at the back of the Mud Hens' bullpen. Now, he has two scoreless Major League innings on his record.
He was called up only when Jim Johnson needed more time in Toledo to get his work in for a return to the big leagues, and he was sent back to Toledo on Saturday night once Johnson was called up.
Still, Mercedes made the most of his outing in Friday's 7-2 loss.
"I feel good," Mercedes said. "I'm very happy."
Mercedes retired all six Mariners he faced, the last two by strikeout. He hadn't pitched two perfect innings in any of his 41 outings in Toledo this year; his longest outing without a baserunner was a four-out save on April 28.
"He threw well, kept the ball down, did a good job in his Major League debut," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He got outs for us. He didn't seem nervous, seemed very comfortable."
The 23-year-old Mercedes became the 11th player to make his Major League debut this year with the Tigers, nine of them pitchers. The latter is the highest total for the Tigers since 2011.
Ausmus not pointing fingers for weak bats
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus appears to have drawn a line against critiquing individual hitters when talking about his lineup's offensive struggles. They'll hit as a team, or they'll struggle as a team.
He talked about the offense as a unit after Tuesday's loss in Pittsburgh. He did it again Friday, when Mariners lefty James Paxton held his team to one run over six innings. His answer came to a question about Ian Kinsler, whose 0-for-4 performance dropped him to 2-for-17 for the week. He entered Saturday batting .286 (18-for-63) with eight RBIs for August, but .228 (28-for-123) with a .532 OPS since the All-Star break.
"Ian, he's gone through stretches where he's swung the bat well," Ausmus said. "He's gone through stretches where he's struggled a little bit. That applies to every single player. That's how baseball is. You have hot streaks and cold streaks. You have slumps and you have periods where you can't seem to do anything wrong.
"As a group, we haven't scored a bunch of runs lately. We have trouble scoring runs. We can't string hits together. So I'm not going to single out one particular player and say that's the reason we're struggling. First of all, it's not true, and it's completely unfair to that player."