OAKLAND – A’s manager Bob Melvin said he had a long talk with new closer Jim Johnson to try to help Johnson right the ship after two rough outings to start the season.
“Look, he’s an accountable guy,” Melvin said before Thursday’s series opener against Seattle. “Everything gets real magnified when you’re in the closer’s role because when you have a bad day, the team loses. Number two, he’s with a new team, and number three, this happened the first couple times he’s been out there.
“It gets magnified in that case. That’s just the way it is. He’s looking forward to getting out there and getting it going in an opposite direction.”
Will that be Thursday night? Probably not, Melvin said. The manager assumed that Johnson might not be available after throwing 29 pitches Wednesday night, when he allowed three runs in the ninth inning of a 6-4 loss to Cleveland.
Melvin had yet to talk to Johnson on Thursday afternoon to see how he felt. He also said he hadn’t talked to his other relievers, so he was unwilling to reveal who he’d go to in a save situation if it’s not Johnson.
Figure Sean Doolittle might be the first alternative option in the ninth. The lefty threw just 14 pitches in a scoreless inning Wednesday night and notched two saves last season while spelling Grant Balfour. With Ryan Cook on the disabled list, Luke Gregerson figures to be the top right-handed closer option if it isn’t Johnson.
Dan Otero threw 38 pitches in Wednesday’s doubleheader opener against the Indians, so there’s a good chance Melvin stays away from him.
And what happens if someone subs in as the closer and nails down a save in Johnson’s place? Does Melvin stay with that reliever in the ninth and let Johnson regain some confidence in a lower-pressure situation? Melvin said anything is possible but wasn’t revealing his plans.
Melvin did offer: "I know he wants to get back there in a save situation.”
As for Thursday night, it seems reasonable that a night off might do Johnson some good to clear his mind. In two outings (1.0 inning), he’s absorbed two losses and allowed five hits, five earned runs, three walks (one intentional) and one hit batter.
Catcher Derek Norris said he told Johnson his body might be flying open a bit on his delivery, causing him to leave pitches up in the zone. Pitching coach Curt Young believes a key for Johnson is keeping some basics in mind.
“It all comes down to good balance and what he’s doing with his mechanics,” Young said. “I feel like his stuff is there but the location has not been good. The velocity is good, but he hasn’t been getting the ground balls he’s used to seeing. That’s really just getting the ball down in the zone.”