SARASOTA, Fla. -- Last spring, Jim Johnson was slowed to start camp due to a back issue. A year later, the Orioles closer is coming off a team-record 51 saves, and Johnson -- along with Darren O'Day and Luis Ayala -- is again being brought along a little slower.
But this time, Johnson is healthy and the team's cautiousness revolves around keeping the 29-year-old, a vital component of 2012's success, fresh over the course of a 162-game regular season.
"I'm where I need to be," said Johnson, who threw a handful of bullpens before arriving to Sarasota, where he's thrown twice since camp opened Feb. 12. "Now when I take the mound, I'm able to work on something specific instead of trying to build up arm strength and stuff. That's what before Spring Training [is for], to use that time to build up arm strength. And get used to throwing out of your delivery."
Johnson went 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 63 appearances last season, making his first All-Star team in the process, in his first full season as the team's closer.
"I think people perceive things differently after last season, but I don't think it changes anything about my work ethic or my expectations on the season and all that," Johnson said. "I'm still going to keep doing the things that I think you have to do to be successful here at this level. It doesn't matter if I'm pitching the ninth or the second."
One of the veterans of a young Orioles pitching staff, Johnson's corner locker isn't far from top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, who are both projected to arrive in Baltimore at some point this season. The two have also blended in seamlessly to big league camp -- with Bundy also there last year -- and have stayed pretty much under the radar, minus some good-natured rookie ribbing.
"They are good kids," Johnson said of Bundy and Gausman. "This camp is more laid back than it has been in years past. Guys here, our goal here is just to win. But at the same time, enjoy it. There are guys here playing ping pong and bumper pool. It's just a boys club right now. Guys are comfortable with each other and hopefully that translates onto the field."