Ryan Cook is on a major roll, unscored upon in his last 18 games, pacing a red-hot a’s bullpen.
In the middle of a tight pennant race there’s a tendency to look at the things that should be better than they are.
The things that are better than they should be can get glossed over.
That brings us to the A’s, who, it is true, have been struggling to score runs. And that’s an issue.
Equally a part of the equation, however, is just how difficult Oakland pitchers are at making it difficult for other teams to score.
Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Cook, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle combined to throw 3.1 perfect innings in relief of winning pitcher Jason Hammel Tuesday.
It’s just part of a bigger picture.
The A’s have been looking to trade former closer Jim Johnson, now the man at the end of the A’s bullpen.
There are 11 days before the trade deadline, and one of the top jobs for the A’s brass is to find a new home for reliever Jim Johnson.
Actually, it’s been something the A’s have wanted to do for a while now, but the A’s don’t want to eat the remainder of Johnson’s $10 million contract and Johnson has done little to entice other teams to go after him.
“They would prefer to move him before the trade deadline,’’ a source said of the A’s. “They’ve been trying. So far, nothing’s happening.’’
Johnson came to the A’s after back-to-back 50-save seasons with the Orioles, but instead of being the closer to replace Grant Balfour, he hasn’t been able to get any level of his former consistency.
Reliever Joe Savery had charge of the A’s unicorn backpack earlier this season.
It’s really true that you can never tell what you’ll see upon walking into the Oakland A’s clubhouse.
It could be players challenging themselves to coat their gums with nuclear hot sauce.
It could be a full sized Darth Vader helmet painted in the A’s Green and Gold gracing the center of the room.
Or it could be players taking turns wearing a large white unicorn mask.
Saturday pregame, it was the unicorn’s turn.
To be clear, the A’s have had a unicorn with them for a couple of years now. The backpack that the relievers fill with sunflower seeds, candy and nuts for the couple of hours they will spend in the bullpen has a unicorn on the back of it.
Jim Johnson hasn’t had close to the results he’d hoped for in coming to Oakland.
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.
Scott Kazmir is ready to pitch again if needed.
Scott Kazmir had been looking forward to pitching Saturday as much as he’d looked forward to any start this season.
He was in the Cleveland starting rotation in 2013 and this was going to be his one chance to pitch against the Tribe in Cleveland this season as a member of the A’s rotation.
Then he got ejected in the second inning by umpire Jerry Layne.
“It’s very frustrating,’’ Kazmir said of being tossed after getting only four outs. “I was looking forward to this start. I actually felt really good.
“Actually this was the best I’ve felt going out there. I was hitting all my spots. It just didn’t work out.’’
Dan Otero had never allowed a big league homer before Sunday.
One thing Dan Otero knew for sure was that he hadn’t ever allowed a home run in a major-league game.
Now he knows a second thing for sure.
“I never should have thrown the pitch,’’ Otero said of his first throw to Jose Altuve in the seventh inning of Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Astros.
Altuve, all 5-foot-5 of him, took a big hack and launch the ball 346 feet, about one foot farther than need to record his first home run of the season.
It ended Otero’s major-league best streak of 63.2 innings to start his career without having allowed a long ball.
Jim Johnson is the likely closer for the A’s Sunday should one be needed.
For a team that came into the season with the consensus best bullpen in the big leagues, the A’s have had more than their share of rocky moments in the first three weeks of the season.
Overall the base number isn’t bad, a cumulative 2.67 ERA, which ranks first among the American League bullpens. Nothing to complain about there.
But relievers have taken six of the club’s nine losses. The bullpen has more blown saves (six) than saves (five). And the man who had opened as the closer, Jim Johnson, is now in a closer-by-committee setup with Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle.
Jim Johnson was in position to get the save Friday, only the A’s scored too many runs.
In case you were wondering, yes, Jim Johnson was going to get the save opportunity in the ninth inning Friday.
For that to happen, Oakland would have had to score one, two or three runs. Instead they scored seven runs and Johnson wound up not pitching at all.
But the one-time closer would have gotten the call, manager Bob Melvin said.
“It was set up for Johnson tonight,’’ Melvin said. “It was his game to close.’’
Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A’s closer again
Is Jim Johnson the closer of the A’s future?
Probably. Almost certainly.
And when would that future be?
Well, it could come as early as Friday when the A’s play host to Houston to start a two-team homestand in the Coliseum.
Johnson, deposed as closer about two weeks into the season because of his inconsistencies, has pitched five innings of scoreless baseball in his last three games and has won two of them.
Sean Doolittle loves A’s ability to win as a team
Sean Doolittle has never had great success in closing games, although the sample size (11 games) is so small as to be irrelevant.
He had a chance to lock down his fifth career Tuesday night when he was handed a 9-7 lead, but he was taken down by a Kole Calhoun double and a Mike Trout homer.
Doolittle blamed no one but himself.
“That was a thigh-high fastball over the middle of the plate,’’ Doolittle said, indicating that Trout could not have asked for a better location. And when you put the leadoff guy on, you’re just asking for it.’’