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Doubleheader wrap: Johnson should get it figured out, but it needs to happen in a hurry

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.
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Donaldson crushed it, but sometimes Coliseum is too tough

Josh Donaldson was surprised his ball in eighth inning Monday didn't clear center field wall at Coliseum

Josh Donaldson was surprised his ball in eighth inning Monday didn’t clear center field wall at Coliseum

Josh Donaldson came within inches of a three-run homer in Monday’s opener. The fact that he wound up with a single says everything you need to know about the Coliseum when it is cold and wet.

“I couldn’t believe that ball didn’t go out,’’ Donaldson said Tuesday, hours before the A’s were rained out of a Coliseum game for the first time since 1998. “I don’t know what else I can do.’’

Donaldson felt the same in the end of July and early August when he was hammering the ball with his 32-ounce bat “and it was just winding up on the warning track.’’

To combat that problem, Donaldson switched to a bat weighing another 1½ ounces. He wound up hitting .309 the rest of the year with eight homers and 32 RBIs in his last 52 games.

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Rules on blocking the plate very much still a work in progress

A's catcher John Jaso got his first taste of the new home plate collision rules in the sixth inning Monday vs. Cleveland

A’s catcher John Jaso got his first taste of the new home plate collision rules in the sixth inning Monday vs. Cleveland

Baseball is trying to reinvent the game, or at least smooth out some of the rough spots, and in Monday night’s opener between the A’s and the Indians, it’s clear that there is still a ways to go.

To combat the spate of concussions and severe injuries that have come from collisions at home plate, the rulebook has been rescripted to make sure the base runner has access to the plate.

However, changing the rule and making the rule second nature are not the same thing. In the sixth inning Monday A’s starter Sonny Gray picked up a deflected grounder and threw the ball to catcher John Jaso.

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Kazmir has the inside scoop on pitching to the Indians

On Tuesday night, Scott Kazmir will be trying to grind Cleveland bats into dust in his first-ever start for the A’s.

On Sunday night, the Oakland left-handed pitcher was sitting down at dinner with a group of those same Indians hitters, including Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnes, two of Cleveland’s most productive batsmen.

Kazmir clearly enjoyed his year in Cleveland, where he resuscitated a career that had hit the skids during a tour of duty in Anaheim. His fastball came back. His control came back. His confidence came back.

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Griffin trying not to think about not pitching these days

Even among all the rain and the chance that there would be no game at the Coliseum Monday, the A’s were mostly upbeat.

A.J. Griffin is trying to join in. But with the certain knowledge that he’s unlikely to pitch in the big leagues before May, it’s not easy.

Griffin missed the last two weeks of spring training with elbow and forearm troubles, and while the original schedule called for him to be start throwing as early as this weekend, he doesn’t know when he’s going to throw.

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Straily, Milone make best of rain with extended side work

Tommy Milone had to get his work in on the side after Saturday rainout.

Tommy Milone had to get his work in on the side

 

The rain that washed out Saturday’s Giants-A’s game at the Coliseum made for a long day for most of the A’s.

For pitchers Tommy Milone and Dan Straily, it was longer still. They were supposed to share the pitching duties against the Giants, Straily getting five innings and Milone four.

When the rain made sure that wouldn’t happen, it was off to plan B – each taking turns in the bullpen – the rain had stopped just about the time the game was called off – to get to their desired pitch count.

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Vogt takes demotion to Sacramento hard, but with grace

It was a great spring for Stephen Vogt. Right up until Saturday, when he got the word he was being sent down to Triple-A Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

Catcher Stephen Vogt got the bad news Saturday he is off to Sacramento.

It wasn’t unexpected, even if it was undeserved. Manager Bob Melvin said it was perhaps the most difficult end-of-spring conversation he’d ever had with a player.

It wasn’t just that Vogt hit .364 with three homers and a dozen RBIs. It was that he’s developed a bond with the A’s pitching staff, he is genuinely liked by A’s teammates and he was a major part of the Oakland success the second half of 2013.

But the decision to go with two left-handed hitting first basemen, Brandon Moss and Daric Barton, meant the squeeze for roster space was on. Vogt, part of a three-man catching rotation last year, was odd man out when the A’s went with two catchers, John Jaso and Derek Norris, leaving Vogt to start in Sacramento.

And he took it hard. He badly wanted to be in Oakland, to the point where “you never want to believe it will happen until it happens,’’ he said.

Melvin took it hard, too.

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PREGAME NOTES: Michael Taylor likely on the trade block for A’s

A’s outfielder Michael Taylor has enjoyed a productive spring training, but time appears to be running out on his tenure in Oakland. The 28-year-old Stanford product is out of options and there’s not a spot on the A’s Opening Day roster for him.

Manager Bob Melvin indicated a trade could be likely for Taylor.

“You never know how it plays out here but he’s created this situation for him,” Melvin said of Taylor. “I know other teams are looking at him and watching him pretty hard. It’s a credit to him that he played so relaxed this spring and put up the numbers that he did. Regardless what happens, I feel that he’ll end up in a good situation for him.”

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Gimenez one of those waiting for opportunity to strike

This is the week that will determine Chris Gimenez’s season.

Claimed on waivers by Oakland as the fourth man to add to what was a three-man catching rotation, Gimenez is a 31-year-old veteran who has logged creditable time with the Indians, the Mariners and the Rays.

He’s not going to make the A’s roster, which may not have room for three catchers, much less four. He’s out of options, so he can be a free agent once the A’s set up their roster and he’s not on it.

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Murphy’s move to Sacramento could be sign of the times

When Sean Murphy moved from Philadelphia to Sacramento this off-season, he was sending a message.

Murphy, 25, had lived in Philly his whole life when not playing baseball. But after going 8-8 with a 4.08 ERA for Double-A Midland in the A’s organization last year, the right-hander set his eyes on Triple-A this time around.

Hence the move to Sacramento, home of the A’s Triple-A affiliate, the RiverCats.

“I’m hoping,’’ Murphy said. “I don’t know anything beyond that.’’

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