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A’s impress new closer Johnson with off-season moves

The A’s became very comfortable knowing that Grant Balfour was their closer the last few years.

Their comfort level figures to be as good or better this time around, even with Balfour gone.

Jim Johnson, who has saved 50 games in each of the last two seasons for the Orioles, is the A’s new closer. He was in Oakland Friday in preparation for Saturday’s FanFest at the Coliseum and Arena, and he said he’s excited that spring training starts next weekend.

“Once the Super Bowl is over, it’s time to go,’’ Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to this opportunity.’’

    Johnson was one of a handful of pitchers brought in to buttress the A’s staff, including starters Scott Kazmir and Drew Pomeranz and relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Luke Gregerson.

Watching from a distance as the team was put together, Johnson said he couldn’t help but be impressed.

“It was awesome to watch it all play out through the off-season,’’ he said. “It was a strong push. You don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but this is a talented team.’’

Hard-throwing lefty Sean Doolittle, who was in the running to be the A’s closer after Balfour’s departure was made clear and before Johnson came aboard, could barely contain himself at the strength and depth of the bullpen.

“I’m excited; I freaking love it,’’ he said. “I think we’ve got the most loaded bullpen ever here; at least the most loaded I’ve ever seen. We can bring guys in in the fifth inning or we can bring them in in the ninth and bring quality.’’

Sonny Gray, who will start the season in the rotation after off-season thumb surgery, is about as excited as Doolittle.

“Adding all that bullpen depth can only help the starting rotation,’’ Gray said. “I like the moves we’ve made.’’

John Hickey

Returning to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.