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A’s: Unicorn mask latest bit of oddity in Oakland clubhouse

Reliever Joe Savery had charge of the A's unicorn backpack earlier this season.

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.

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A’s will need Cook, defense to gel before too much longer

The first couple of weeks of June have been tough on reliever Ryan Cook.

The first couple of weeks of June have been tough on reliever Ryan Cook.

There are going to be nights or days like the one the A’s lived through Monday in losing to the Rangers 14-8.

Take Sept. 11, 1927.

The New York Yankees went out and lost 6-2 to the St. Louis Browns that Sunday afternoon. The Yankees had played the Browns 21 times already that season. The Bronx Bombers were 21-0 in those other games. They waited until their final game of the year to lose. Who knows why.

(For that bit of arcane information, I thank baseball-reference.com, which has to be one of the top five websites on the planet. I have no idea what the other four are).

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Tough roster move faces A’s before Tuesday in New York

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday's game in New York.

Setup man Ryan Cook should be activated for Tuesday’s game in New York.

As May turned to June, the A’s found themselves closer to the roster they thought they might have in April.

Sunday’s recall of catcher Stephen Vogt gives the club three catchers, meaning manager Bob Melvin can play two of them on any given day (one of them as the designated hitter) and still have the ability to pinch-run.

That’s the way things worked for much of the middle of the 2013 season before injuries got in the way.

More than that, having a three-catcher ensemble means Melvin doesn’t have to fret about the scenario of having to either give up the designated hitter or have third baseman Josh Donaldson, a former catcher, get back behind the plate.

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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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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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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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Jim Johnson taken out of the closer’s role for now

To the surprise of almost no one, the A’s are taking the closer’s role away from Jim Johnson for the time being.

Oakland manager Bob Melvin said Thursday morning that he would use a number of other relievers – Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Dan Otero – in that role while the club focuses on helping Johnson find his 50-save stuff of the last two seasons.

For the third time in five appearances Wednesday Johnson struggled with his control to the point where he couldn’t hold the 4-2 lead he was given in the ninth inning. He faced five batters, got just one out, and had to be replaced by Otero, who allowed a sacrifice fly but otherwise pitched well enough to get the win when Derek Norris homered in the 11th inning.

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