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Tigers ink reliever Johnson in hopes he regains form

Former Orioles, Athletics closer will first pitch for Triple-A Toledo

NEW YORK -- Jim Johnson is about to get another chance with a contender after being signed to a Minor League contract by the Tigers on Tuesday.

Johnson will report to New York on Wednesday to throw in front of Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones before he heads to Triple-A Toledo. Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers' president and general manager, said he expects Johnson to make a couple outings in the Minors before he is ready to be promoted.

"We're not signing him to go to Triple-A," Dombrowski said. "We're hopeful that he'll be able to help us here at some point."

Johnson saved at least 50 games in back-to-back seasons for the Orioles before being traded to Oakland last December, but struggled mightily this season. He posted a 7.14 ERA with just two saves through 38 games with the A's before being released.

The Tigers are encouraged with Johnson's arm strength, which has remained strong despite his struggles. Dombrowski believes Johnson's problems were rooted in command issues, and hopes that Jones will be able to offer some adjustments to return him back to the form that made him one of the league's best relievers.

"He struggled this year, and sometimes guys get into a spiral that is tough to get out of," Dombrowski said. "With him being released, we thought maybe a change of scenery would be beneficial."

Johnson was named to the All-Star team and finished seventh in the American League's Cy Young Award balloting in 2012, when he saved 51 games for the Orioles. He followed up his breakout season by leading the AL in saves (50) and games finished (63) for the Orioles in 2013. Overall, he owns a career record of 22-28 with a 3.47 ERA, and he has 124 saves in parts of nine seasons

Dombrowski originally had interest in possibly acquiring Johnson near the Trade Deadline, but the clubs were not able to workout a deal. The Tigers did acquire Joakim Soria to try to bolster a bullpen that ranks near the bottom of the big leagues in nearly every major category.

Dombrowski also further reiterated that the Tigers are not counting on Joel Hanrahan to come back this season.

Where Johnson will fit in the bullpen is not entirely clear, and Dombrowski said it was too early to be sure.

"We're looking to help our bullpen in any way we can," he said. "We're not looking for him to be our closer or setup guy, but to mix in with the guys that we have."

Jamal Collier is an associate reporter for
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