San Francisco Giants

Oakland A’s split doubleheader as Johnson blows save opportunity

OAKLAND -- Two nights after taking the loss in his A’s debut in Monday’s season opener, closer Jim Johnson had another rough night Wednesday, blowing his first save chance of the season by allowing three runs in the ninth inning of the A’s 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

Johnson entered the game with the A’s leading 4-3 and allowed back-to-back singles to start the ninth. After a fielder’s choice left runners on the corners with one out, Johnson walked cleanup hitter Carlos Santana to load the bases. Michael Brantley pulled a single into right field past a shaded-in infield to score two runs, and after an intentional walk to load the bases again, Johnson allowed a David Murphy sacrifice fly to make it 6-4.

After two appearances, Johnson is 0-2 with a 45.00 ERA -- obviously not the start he was hoping for to his A’s career. For the second consecutive outing, he left the mound to loud boos from the Coliseum crowd.

"I’m not going to be doing anybody any favors if I hang my head," Johnson said. "These guys have been playing their butts off. We should be 3-0 and obviously I’ll take the blame. But if I sit there and sulk and pout it’s not going to do anybody any good."

Johnson said the issue Wednesday night was "missing a couple locations." He appeared to be missing up in the strike zone -- out of character for a pitcher who gets most of his outs via ground balls -- but said he "left everything I’ve got out there."

"It’s not like I caved, anything like that," Johnson said. "I know what it looks like, but every pitch had conviction and intent. Maybe not every one of them was executed perfectly. So just keep trusting the process. It stings right now and it should, but sometimes it’s how you respond to adversity."

Manager Bob Melvin also said it appears Johnson’s issues right now are with command more than anything.

"The velocity’s there. Some of the movement’s there, maybe not as consistently as he would like it," Melvin said. "He’s pitching up in the zone a little bit more than he would like, so maybe mechanically a little bit out of whack. He’s just off to a slow start."

Asked if he’s at all reconsidering Johnson in the ninth-inning role, Melvin said it’s too early after two games, and cited Johnson’s 101 saves over the past two seasons. "We traded for him for a reason," Melvin said. "He does have a terrific track record."

Melvin said he might stay away from Johnson in Thursday’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners simply because of Johnson’s high pitch count (29) in this game. Otherwise, it sounds for now like Johnson, who also blew nine saves with the Orioles last season, will have the opportunity to work through whatever issues he’s having while maintaining the closer job.

"He’s been around long enough, he’s had some ups and downs, he knows how to get through these things," Melvin said. "Again, it’s unfortunate because when you’re with a new team, you want to get off to a good start. Again, his track record’s there and he hasn’t gotten off to a good start, so that’s tough on a guy. But we have to support him, we have to be behind him. His track record’s there. So he’s going to get better."

* Before the blown save, the A’s were in line to sweep both ends of the first day-night doubleheader in Coliseum history. Instead they settled for a split and dropped two of three to the Indians in their opening series.

"Anytime you lose a game that you have a lead in the ninth, it’s a little more difficult," Melvin said. "But you move on. You have to."

Overshadowed will be a good night for Sam Fuld, who started the nightcap in place of Coco Crisp in center field and went 2-for-4 with a triple, an RBI single and a walk. Fuld ostensibly is holding down the fourth outfield spot only until Craig Gentry is healthy enough to return, but the veteran is making a good impression after being a non-roster invitee to camp this spring -- both on the A’s and any other teams that are watching.

Brandon Moss also had a pair of hits, including an RBI single, and Yoenis Cespedes was 1-for-2 with a first-inning RBI double and two walks, one of them intentional.

* Josh Lindblom, called up from Triple-A to start the second game of the doubleheader, went 4 2/3 innings and allowed two runs on five hits, the damaging one a two-run homer in the fourth by Indians second baseman Mike Aviles.

Melvin, who relieved Lindblom with two outs in the fifth with a runner on second and Lindblom nearing 90 pitches, said the right-hander "certainly did his job" getting the A’s to that point with a lead. Lindblom said he felt he could have been more efficient, but took encouragement out of being the team’s choice for the spot-start.

"Every game’s important," said Lindblom, who found out Tuesday afternoon he’d be getting called up. "The dynamic of it is you come in and want to make an impression, and maybe you try to do a little too much, try to be too fine, instead of attacking the hitters and going after them."

* It wasn’t a great night for either of the A’s offseason additions in the bullpen, as right-handed set-up man Luke Gregerson allowed a run in the seventh inning that tied the game 3-3 at that point. Gregerson walked Jason Kipnis with one out, after which Carlos Santana singled and Brantley grounded out to score Kipnis.

The A’s took the lead back in the bottom of the inning when Moss singled to score Donaldson, who had reached second when a miscommunication between Brantley and Ryan Raburn in left-center led to a dropped fly ball. The error was charged to Brantley, ending his errorless games streak at 247.

* Tomorrow’s print story focuses on Scott Kazmir’s performance in the A’s 6-1 win in game one. The left-hander, making his A’s debut, threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings against his former team, allowing just three hits with no walks and five strikeouts on 94 pitches.

Nick Swisher, the former A’s player and now-first baseman for Cleveland, had this to say about Kazmir, who made his return to major-league baseball last season with the Indians after pitching in 2012 for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters:

"Kaz is one of my best buddies. Obviously when you go up against your buddy you want to get him, but today he did a great job keeping the ball down in the zone, working the corners, not missing in the middle part of the plate, keeping his pitch count down. I hate that it was against us and at our expense, but then again, being a buddy of mine, you’re excited for him."

No doubt the A’s were excited as well by the first returns from their two-year investment in Kazmir, especially with how their starting pitching has been rocked by injuries already this spring. Kazmir was notably efficient, taking advantage of the spacious confines here at the Coliseum, which was somewhat reminiscent of the departed Bartolo Colon.

"I don’t want to say it adds pressure to him because he doesn’t look at it that way -- he just wants to be one of the starters," Melvin said. "But when you lose a Bartolo to free agency and then a guy like Parker and then Griffin goes down, (Kazmir’s) importance is key for us.

"The (final spring training) start in San Francisco I think fueled his confidence going into this game, and then to get off to a good start, it’s awfully important."

Kazmir also had the benefit of some offense from the A’s, who staked him to a 5-0 lead after three innings. Alberto Callaspo hit a two-run home run, while Jed Lowrie singled in a run and also doubled in the sixth, later scoring on a double by Brandon Moss.

Yoenis Cespedes added two hits and catcher Derek Norris had three singles, all to right field. Norris’ hits all came against right-handed pitching, and Melvin was asked after the game whether Norris is making a case for himself to start against right-handers. Melvin answered: "We’ll see," saying that John Jaso also hits righties well, which is why the A’s have a platoon there in the first place.

As bad as the A’s have been in season openers the past decade -- they’re 0-10 -- they’ve made up for it on day two (or in this case, three) more often than not. They’ve now won their second game in seven of the past 10 seasons.

* Melvin said set-up man Ryan Cook is "pretty close" to being ready to rejoin the A’s. Cook is eligible to come off the disabled list on Saturday.

* Melvin also said he wouldn’t be surprised to see right-hander Fernando Rodriguez, who had a strong spring returning from Tommy John surgery and begins the year at Triple-A, in Oakland at some point this season in a relief role.

* Outfielder Craig Gentry was on hand Tuesday night for the birth of his baby daughter. Gentry is also eligible to come off the DL on Saturday. Melvin said he isn’t sure whether the brief absence will push Gentry’s timetable back.