The A’s finally put struggling high-priced reliever Jim Johnson out of his Oakland misery Thursday, designating the right-hander for assignment after his latest in a series of mound meltdowns.
Johnson, 31, entrusted with a 9-2 Oakland lead against Houston Wednesday night, gave up four straight hits – in just 11 pitches – and was quickly removed by A’s manager Bob Melvin. All four runs eventually scored as the A’s hung on for a 9-7 victory at the Coliseum.
It was just the latest in a long list of setbacks, starting with a loss in his first A’s appearance on March 31 and a blown save in his second.
Johnson, 4-2 with a 6.92 ERA and just two saves before losing his job as the closer, was a major disappointment for the A’s this year. Signed to a $10 million one-year deal after the departure of Grant Balfour in free agency, the A’’s looked secure with a pitcher who had saved 101 games in his previous two seasons with the Baltimore Orioles.
A’s manager Bob Melvin said it was difficult giving Johnson the bad news.
“It was very tough,” Melvin said. “There’s a human side to all this, too. The performance wasn’t great, but it’s not like he wasn’t accountable. I just couldn’t get him in a spot where he could get on a roll, and I feel awful about it, too, because it’s my job to get him in a position to succeed, and it just didn’t happen here.”
The A’s have 10 days to trade, release or outright Johnson to the minor leagues. Based on the length of his major league service, Johnson could also refuse a minor-league assignment. A team can make a waiver claim on Johnson, but Oakland will still be obligated to pay the remainder of his 2014 salary. It remains to be seen if another team will take that chance, but Melvin was hoping so.
“Maybe the best thing for him is to get a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air,” Melvin said. “So it wouldn’t surprise me if someone picked him up and he started to pitch a lot better.”
Left-hander Sean Doolittle, who eventually assumed Johnson’s closer spot, said the entire bullpen corps would miss Johnson.
“There’s a ton of respect for him in our bullpen for the way he went about his business every day,” Doolittle said. “He was always watching films or working with (pitching coach) Curt Young before the game trying to find answers and figure stuff out.
“My heart goes out to him because of what he had to deal with here,” Doolittle added. “A change of scenery may be all it takes. Maybe somebody tells him something in a different way and it clicks again. He had 100 saves in two seasons in the toughest division in baseball. You don’t do that unless you’re really good. It’s in there somewhere, I think we all hope for his sake it comes back out.”
Johnson was replaced on the roster by right-hander Evan Scribner, who was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento.
The news was better on outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. After hitting two home runs Wednesday night — his first long balls in 25 games dating back to June 19 — Cespedes sprained his right thumb in a batter’s box fall in his fourth at-bat.
But Melvin said Cespedes might be available to pinch-hit in Thursday’s series finale against Houston and could start Friday night when the A’s open at series at Texas.
“Better than I thought,” said Melvin. “That is good news. I think the swelling was minimal. It was just the soreness in the joint. They got him ready to go, and like I said, potentially available off the bench today.”