Inside Pitch: Johnson Gets His Chance

Dan Johnson knew he had little shot of making the A's Opening Day roster, but the timing for the news was especially difficult. He hit two home runs in a spring game in Tucson, only to learn he was demoted afterward.

An injury to Erubiel Durazo led to a much-deserved and well-overdue promotion for Johnson, who was the most valuable player in the Pacific Coast League in 2004, but had to return to the minors again to begin 2005.

Johnson was promoted last September to the big club, but never had an at-bat because of vertigo and a pennant race. In his first at-bat, he just missed a home run, smoking a pitch down the line with plenty of distance, but foul.

Johnson started all three games against Cleveland on May 27-29 and collected his first major-league hit.

Durazo's injury is an opportunity for Johnson to show what he can do in the majors for 15 days, and perhaps force the A's hand into making a decision on whether to get rid of one of their left-handed hitting 1B/DHs -- Johnson, Durazo and Scott Hatteberg, who has regressed defensively at first.

The A's have struggled all year to score runs, and have demonstrated little power, so the promotion of Johnson was welcome news for many A's fans who follow minor league stats closely. Johnson was hitting .324 with eight home runs and a PCL-leading 41 RBIs in 47 games.

The leaders for the A's: batting average, Mark Kotsay (.293); home runs, three tied at four; RBIs, Kotsay and Eric Chavez with 22.

"We just need something to spark things a little and start scoring runs again," Johnson said. "Everybody here has done it before."

Notebook

--Manager Ken Macha resisted shaking up his lineup for most of this season, telling reporters he didn't think it would make much of a difference, and he was trying to show confidence in his slumping regulars.

On Friday night, the A's proved Macha correct.

Macha flip-flopped table-setters Mark Kotsay and Jason Kendall, having Kendall lead off, moved Bobby Kielty to the third spot in the order, used Keith Ginter in the fifth spot, and inserted Dan Johnson (just up from the minors) into the lineup.

It didn't matter. The A's managed just two hits off starter Cliff Lee, who owns them, and went seven innings without a base-runner, in a 4-1 loss to Cleveland. Lee allowed just one run in two starts against the A's last year.

The game between the teams with the fewest runs scored (180) in the American League was pretty much as expected. It was 1-0 going into the seventh inning. They had just 10 hits combined.

The A's loaded the bases in the first inning, then Eric Chavez struck out and Ginter hit into a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.

--DH Erubiel Durazo was placed on the disabled list Friday with tendinitis in his left elbow. That was the result of extra throwing in anticipation of playing the field in interleague games. As it turned out, Durazo played the field in only one game and had minimal throwing in that game. Durazo is hitting a disappointing .237 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 41 games.

--LHP Barry Zito continues to get plagued by low run support. Zito allowed just one run in six innings Friday, enduring two rain delays, and threw 102 pitches. In Zito's six losses, the A's have scored just three runs.

--RHP Keiichi Yabu, who has been one of Ken Macha's more reliable relievers, allowed three runs in two innings to put the game out of reach Friday. It proved critical as the A's scored a run in the inning and had the bases loaded when Johnson grounded out to second base.

--C Jason Kendall had two more runners steal successfully against him on Friday night. He was just 5-for-40 throwing out runners.

--RHP Dan Haren took a second straight hard-luck loss Thursday, dropping his record to 1-7 on the season. Haren allowed just two runs on four hits and no walks in seven innings in his latest loss.

--The A's went back to a 12-man pitching staff on Tuesday and just in the nick of time.

Starter Joe Blanton didn't make it out of the first inning Wednesday and the A's hit rock bottom by giving up 10 runs to lowly Tampa Bay in the first inning en route to a 14-6 loss in the Tropicana Dome.

The last time the A's allowed 10 runs in the first inning was Aug. 31, 1998 against Cleveland.

Britt Reames, a reliever last year at Triple-A Sacramento who was moved into the rotation this year when the River Cats rotation was decimated by injuries, was called up on Tuesday.

He replaced Blanton with two on base in the first inning, already down 6-0, and immediately gave up a three-run homer to leadoff hitter Carl Crawford. Reames also allowed a solo home run to Dave Hollins that inning, then two more runs in the second inning to make it 12-0.

Reames ended up throwing 82 pitches in 4.2 innings of relief, giving up seven hits, two walks and five runs.

Blanton, who has struggled with his control lately, threw a lot of strikes, yet fooled nobody. Of the nine batters he faced, he gave up a triple, three doubles, two infield singles, a walk, a sacrifice fly, and costly error by third baseman Eric Chavez made it worse.

--OF Matt Watson was sent back to Triple-A Sacramento but made a positive impression, despite a .190 average, during his two-week stay with the A's. With Swisher back, however, Watson wouldn't be getting any playing time.

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