Sean Doolittle comes to Jim Johnson’s defense regarding boos

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OAKLAND -– Jim Johnson once again struggled and got an earful from A’s fans on Thursday, and one of his bullpen teammates expressed disappointment with the home crowd.

Johnson gave up two runs in the seventh inning Thursday against the Detroit Tigers; runs that proved critical as the A’s battled back before falling 5-4 in the finale of a four-game series.

After retiring the side, Johnson left to a chorus of boos, a scene that has marked his rough first season in green and gold. He’s now allowed nine runs over his last nine outings (8 1/3 IP), increasing his overall ERA to 6.55 in 22 appearances.

A’s closer Sean Doolittle maintains faith in Johnson, saying he believes the sinkerballer has the stuff and track record to turn his year around. Doolittle wasn’t as supportive of the treatment Johnson got as he exited the field.

“We spent all offseason telling the new guys about how great our fans were,” Doolittle said. “And from game one — game one — he got booed off the field. We’re sitting in the dugout looking around. I can’t remember that happening since I’ve been here. We went through some rough patches last year when we were pretty bad, but I don’t remember the boo birds coming out like that.”

Johnson had a large group of reporters gathered around his locker after the game.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “Balls are finding holes. I’m throwing pretty good pitches. I just feel like I’m getting a little bit of bad luck. I don’t think it’s as bad as it really seems, but I think everybody else thinks that way.”

Johnson has found success on the road –- a 3-0 record, 1.98 ERA and .208 opponents’ batting average in 11 games.

At home? He is 0-2 with a 14.05 ERA and .465 opponents’ average in 11 games.

Asked if the boos are affecting him on the mound, Johnson paused before responding: “What am I supposed to do?”

The reason for the home fans’ treatment of Johnson certainly was tied, early on, to him replacing a fan favorite closer in Grant Balfour. And though Balfour left via free agency — and Johnson was only acquired via trade after it was clear Balfour wouldn’t be back –- fans initially seemed to view the situation as a straight-up swap, Johnson for Balfour.

Then Johnson allowed two ninth-inning runs in an Opening Night loss to Cleveland and was serenaded by boos right off the bat.

[RELATED: A’s fall to Tigers, split four-game set]

“I would’ve booed me too,” he said that night.

In defense of the home fans, Johnson got an encouraging reception later in that season-opening homestand. Dealing with boos comes with the territory for professional athletes, and Johnson’s home stats aren’t doing much to win fans over during the first one-third of the season.

Entering in relief of Jesse Chavez on Thursday with Oakland trailing 3-2, Johnson retired his first batter before giving up singles to Don Kelly and Miguel Cabrera. Then Victor Martinez followed with a hard-hit two-run double down the right-field line that made it 5-2.

Still, Doolittle — a fan favorite and one of many A’s players who often speaks highly of the Coliseum crowd — doesn’t like the treatment Johnson is getting.

“I mean, we all take notice of it,” Doolittle said. “One guy was giving him the double-barreled middle finger above the dugout after one of his outings. That’s disgusting. That’s pretty ridiculous that he has to deal with that.”

After losing the closer’s role early in the season, Johnson finds himself pitching earlier in games and often when the A’s are already trailing.

“Guys have to respond to the opportunities they get,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ll continue to try to find a good spot for him and get him going.”

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.