After a very long 13-hour day at the ballpark, a very short blog post.
You can give Jim Johnson credit for one thing after his disastrous opening series with the A’s. The new closer isn’t afraid to face the music for a bad effort, whether it be a torrent of boos or a probing media horde wanting to know how a guy who saved 50 games last year suddenly looks like he’s lucky when he gets an out.
Johnson, who didn’t have a great spring, is off to an even worse start in the regular season. As he admitted himself after Wednesday night’s three-run blow-up when he was entrusted with a 4-3 lead in the ninth, the A’s should be 3-0 and they’re 1-2 primarily because of him. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but the fact is Oakland has been exceedingly fortunate with closers over the last several years, so to see Johnson blow games in his first two appearances is a bit shocking.
And the fans, what few of them showed for this latest disaster, don’t like it one bit. They started booing after Johnson gave up a leadoff hit to start the inning, and it only got louder as the inning progressed. It’s tough enough to blow a couple of games, but Johnson’s predecessor, Grant Balfour, was an extremely popular guy and his rage act won over the fans.
Johnson is a more even-tempered sort on the mound, but he could use a little rage right now. Maybe he doesn’t have to resort to openly swearing on the mound, but pitching with a chip might not hurt. Closers need some attitude, and right now, Johnson lacks machismo more than anything. The velocity is there. He has the pitch assortment if he can just locate it. Maybe it simply requires a little mad-on for it all to click.
For one thing, maybe he shouldn’t be so conciliatory to the boo birds. You can’t fault a little booing, but quite honestly, things got a little excesssive Wednesday. When Bob Melvin went to the mound to talk to Johnson and infielders, one fan shrieked from the mezzanine deck, “Take him out! Take him out!” So considering all the pitchers the A’s had already used, the options were Evan Scribner and Fernando Abad. Please.
Look, Johnson’s the guy. The A’s are paying him $10 million this season to be the guy and that won’t change unless it really goes bad for a good long while. Better to help him try to get his head on straight or this could get real ugly. Right now, he’s feeling those boos, and it isn’t helping him get it together in his new surroundings.
“I only heard them when I was coming in the game and when I was coming out of the game,” he maintained. “They were very supportive when I came in and I respect that, but then they booed me again. What else do you want a crowd to do?”
At the same time, Johnson believes he’s giving good effort.
“I felt like I left it out there,” he said. “It’s not like I caved, it’s not anything like that. I know what it looks like, but every pitch had conviction and intent. Maybe not every one of them was executed perfectly. But I have to keep trusting the process. I know it stings right now and it should, but sometimes it’s how you respond to adversity.”
The season is still in its extreme infancy. We’re three games in. It’s no time to be panicking about Johnson, and Melvin certainly wasn’t afterward. He needs to keep getting the ball, though, to get out of this early slump as soon as possible. The A’s bullpen is supposed to be one of their key strengths, and a faltering closer could have a domino effect. Don’t see that happening, though. Johnson’s too good, and so are the all of the guys in the bullpen.
Oh yeah, Scott Kazmir in Game 1. The real deal. Take the good with the bad and let’s see what happens with Seattle in town the next four days.