Johnson out as closer, Melvin going with committee
With seven earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings, newly acquired righty removed from role
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jim Johnson is out as the A's closer.
Manager Bob Melvin said Thursday morning he's "going to give Jim a break" from the ninth inning and go with a closer-by-committee approach. Right-handers Luke Gregerson, Ryan Cook and Dan Otero and lefty Sean Doolittle are all in the mix.
"There's no timetable," Melvin said. "Let's just get him straightened out. And we have plenty of options. That's the good thing about our team, our versatility. We'll play it by ear based on how the game's going, who's available on that particular day."
The news comes just 11 days into the season and less than 24 hours after Johnson gave up two runs in the ninth inning to allow the Twins to tie a game which the A's ultimately won in extras. An All-Star closer with 101 saves in his previous two seasons with the Orioles, Johnson is already 0-2 with a blown save for his new team.
The 30-year-old righty has allowed at least two runs in three of his five appearances and seven runs overall -- tied for most among all American League relievers -- in just 3 1/3 innings. He has offered up nine hits and issued six walks in that span, for a 4.50 WHIP.
And he doesn't exactly know why.
Speaking to MLB.com and the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday morning, Johnson said, "Trust me, I wish I had an answer.
"I'm trying to figure out what's going on," he said. "The ball's not going where I want it to go consistently. Try to get it sorted out, try to get locked in."
"If there was an easy fix, we'd do it," added Melvin. "So maybe it's just a different train of thought, a more confident train of thought. You can put some added pressure on yourself when you're with a new team. I don't know if that's the case with him. It could be a combination of anything. His stuff still looks good. He's just not throwing it over the plate as consistently as he has in the past."
Johnson wasn't surprised by Melvin's decision, saying, "He has to do what he has to do. I just gotta keep working. Nothing else I can do."
"It's uncomfortable," Melvin said, "yet he makes it easy because all he wants to do is win, and that's what he conveyed to me."
The A's acquired Johnson from Baltimore in December to offset the loss of Grant Balfour, and they are paying him $10 million in arbitration before he becomes a free agent at season's end.
Balfour went through a similar situation with the A's in 2012, when he lost the closer's job to Brian Fuentes. But Fuentes, too, couldn't get the job done, forcing Melvin to go to a committee that included Cook. Balfour emerged from the pack and was renamed the closer soon enough.
Johnson's track record is too good for the A's not to allow him the opportunity to be trusted in the ninth again. He went through a woeful spell in Baltimore last May -- a six-game stretch that resulted in three of his eight losses and four of his nine blown saves, while allowing 12 runs in five innings -- but he compiled a 1.52 ERA in his other 69 contests.
"You have to do the best you can to win games, and you also have to show confidence in guys for a period of time, and if that doesn't work, then you have to do some things differently," Melvin said. "It's more difficult with the guys who have track records, which Jim does."
In the meantime, Oakland's manager is considering getting Johnson a two-inning outing to let him work through his issues.
"It'd be one thing if he was throwing 88 mph," Melvin said. "He's not. He's throwing hard, he still has good movement on it. He's just not harnessing it to where he knows where it's going all the time.
"I think everyone responds to this type of situation differently, depending on the individual. Some guys have a tough time with it, some guys probably don't evaluate their performance the way they probably should at times. That's not the case with Jim."
"I think, ideally, this allows him to pitch and not feel so much pressure, and then he can get rolling," said catcher Derek Norris. "We have more than enough capable guys who can fill the closer's role. I don't think he should take offense to it. I think he knows as well as anyone he's not right, he's not doing as well as he wants.