The A’s are one-third of the way through the 162-game season, and after 54 games, they have no idea what’s up with Jim Johnson.
The right-hander, a 50-saves man the last two seasons with the Orioles, has not found it in Oakland. His sinker isn’t sinking, and the flurry of ground balls that used to get him out of trouble are finding their way to the outfield in unprecedented numbers.
The A’s bullpen was supposed to be the bedrock of the club. Instead it has been the Achilles’ heel. Johnson (3-2, 6.55) is the most glaring problem, but he’s not the only issue. Luke Gregerson has good overall numbers (1-1, 2.70) but eight of the 13 base runners he’s inherited have scored.
Things are even a little tough for Dan Otero. His ERA has gone from 0.73 in late April to its current 2.53 with a 13-game stretch in which his ERA is 3.66 and he’s allowed the first two homers of his big league career.
There are signs things might be getting better, or at the very least, there will be more help in the eighth and ninth innings.
Ryan Cook could be back in the A’s bullpen as early as the start of the next road trip Tuesday in New York. His right forearm is giving him no trouble at all and he’s likely going to have a one-game injury rehabilitation assignment with Sacramento Saturday.
Eric O’Flaherty, who has been the best situational left-handed reliever in the game the past five years or so, is close to starting an injury rehab assignment that will be his final test following 2013’s Tommy John surgery and he could be added to the mix soon.
Johnson heard nothing but boos after he gave up two more runs in the seventh inning Thursday, expanding a 3-2 deficit to the Tigers to 5-2. Oakland eventually lost 5-4.
Johnson’s not at all happy with the way things are going, but he suggested he’s not going to give into the booing. More than that, he said he’s throwing better than the results, that some bad luck with grounders sneaking through the infield is in part what’s wrong.
And while manager Bob Melvin said he has to use Johnson when the A’s are behind at least until the right-hander gets his game together, Johnson’s teammates still expect a turnaround in the final two-thirds of the season.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson said he wasn’t the best man to speak to Johnson’s troubles, but he knows from seeing Johnson in Baltimore what a competitor the right-hander is.
“It’s tough for me to speak on his behalf,’’ Donaldson said. “At the same time, we’re all competitors and we all go through times where we get our lumps.
“If you don’t let it take away too much from you, it’s just one of those ordeals where you have to continue to grind and learn from the mistakes you are making and continue to compete and go out there with that bulldog mentality.’’
One of those who can identify closely with Johnson is fellow reliever Sean Doolittle.
“We’ve all been there,’’ the current closer said. “We know his track record. He’s definitely shown flashes, we’ve just got to get him on a roll. We are all pulling for him.’’