Tigers call up veteran Johnson to aid 'pen

Tigers call up veteran Johnson to aid 'pen

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.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.