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Johnson’s woes notwithstanding, help on way for A’s pen

Jim Johnson hasn't had close to the results he'd hoped for in coming to Oakland.

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.

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Blanks hopes to answer the call now that he’s with A’s

Kyle Blanks exited for new opportunity in big leagues with A's.

Kyle Blanks exited for new opportunity in big leagues with A’s.

Kyle Blanks was just getting settled in for a mid-morning snooze when his cell phone rang.

It was San Diego assistant general manager A.J. Hinch. The former A’s catcher was calling to let Blanks know that he’d been traded to Oakland.

Just like that, Blanks life and livelihood changed. He’d been destined to return to Triple-A El Paso when the Padres found they no longer had a spot for him. Instead he would be heading to join the A’s in Cleveland to be their right-handed hitting first baseman.

“I was trying to take a nap, and I get a phone call that brings me here,’’ Blanks said. “It’s definitely an interesting change of scenery. The change will be for the better.’’

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A’s catch big break with news Cook isn’t headed for surgery

#A's setup man Ryan Cook got some good news -- he doesn't need surgery

#A’s setup man Ryan Cook got some good news — he doesn’t need surgery

A’s reliever Ryan Cook said there was never a doubt in his mind that the forearm pain he was feeling was not serious.

He might have been the only one. Forearm pain in hard-throwing pitchers is generally the precursor to Tommy John-style surgery where a ligament from the arm or a leg is attached in the elbow.

It means a recovery period of 12-15 months, and losing the hard-throwing Cook for that period of time would have been a severe blow to the Oakland bullpen.

And there were expectations that he might well be on his way to join teammates Jarod Parker and A.J. Griffin as members of the A’s Tommy John club for 2014.

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Concerns over bullpen issues downplayed by A’s

Jim Johnson is the likely closer for the A's Sunday should one be needed.

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.

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For one night, Johnson was set to be A’s closer again

Jim Johnson was in position to get the save Friday, only the A's scored too many runs.

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.’’

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Rangers’ Washington respects the strength of A’s bullpen

Jim Johnson could be closing again for A's the way Rangers' manager Ron Washington sees it.

Jim Johnson could be closing again for A’s the way Rangers’ manager Ron Washington sees it.

It’s by no means clear that the A’s want to go long term with the closer-by-committee that has marked the first month of the 2014 season.

Texas manager Ron Washington doesn’t know if Jim Johnson will reclaim his job as closer or if A’s manager Bob Melvin will have Sean Doolittle and Luke Gregerson (and possibly Ryan Cook) will continue to take the job on an ad hoc basis.

Washington sees no reason why the A’s can’t do it if they want to.

“They are above the norm as far as bullpens go,’’ the Rangers manager and former Athletics third base coach said. “They go 100 mph from the left side. They can go 100 mph from the right side. They can throw breaking balls from the left side. They can throw breaking balls from the right side.

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Sooner or later, Johnson will move back into closer’s role

Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A's closer again

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.

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Doolittle takes blame for ninth inning, but isn’t bummed

Sean Doolittle loves A's ability to win as a team

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.’’

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Gray pitching like a proven commodity in first full season

Sonny Gray is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts after Saturday's win

Sonny Gray is 2-0 with a 0.95 ERA in three starts after Saturday’s win

Sonny Gray has only made 13 big league starts. three of them this year.

He commands the game as if he’d made 130.

Once again the A’s 24-year-old was the best pitcher on the field Saturday, throwing seven innings of one-run ball, giving up a first-inning run then almost nothing else in what Gray called “my best game of the year.’’

What he didn’t say was “so far.’’

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Johnson’s perfect innings won’t change closer situation

Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A's closer again

Jim Johnson would like nothing better than to be the A’s closer again

One day after his demotion from the closer’s role with Oakland, Jim Johnson gave the A’s a tantalizing look at what he could offer as the closer.

Johnson pitched two innings of relief in a game that wasn’t close when he came in and retired all six batters he faced. He struck out four of the six.

“That’s the best we’ve seen him,’’ manager Bob Melvin said.

That came a day after Melvin said that he was going to go with a closer by committee. And when it seemed the A’s might need a closer after whittling their deficit to the A’s from 6-0 to 6-4, it was Sean Doolittle who was warming up in the ninth.

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