OAKLAND -- Scott Kazmir and Jim Johnson are locker mates in the A's clubhouse, but they couldn't be more distant in terms of early returns pitching in their new Oakland uniforms.
Working quickly, confidently and efficiently, Kazmir led Oakland to its first 2014 victory Wednesday afternoon, a 6-1 romp over the Cleveland Indians in the first game of a day-night doubleheader before 15,134 at the Coliseum.
But in the night affair, Johnson was handed a 4-3 lead to protect in the ninth, and the new closer had another rough go of it, surrendering three runs and taking his second straight loss as the A's fell 6-4 in front of a crowd of 12,198.
As brilliant as Kazmir was in the opener, Johnson's inability to close the deal in the second game raises an immediate red flag for the A's. They aren't used to seeing their closers fail, particularly one they're paying $10 million to finish off games this season. There's little doubt of the need to get that corrected quickly, even with 159 games left on the schedule.
Johnson, who has a 45.00 ERA, two defeats and a growing flock of boo birds who really let him have it throughout his nightmare ninth, knows that as well as anyone.
"I'm not going to be doing anybody any favors if I hang my head," he said. "These guys need me. They're 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 be doing anybody any good. So I've got to be me. I've got to trust in what I'm doing, that it's going to get better and prove that to the guys, and be one of the 25 guys who's going to help us win."
The A's were on the cusp of a doubleheader sweep after getting a pretty decent patchwork performance from four pitchers preceding Johnson. Emergency starter Josh Lindblom pitched 42/3 innings and left with a 3-2 lead. Drew Pomeranz threw a scoreless inning, and while Luke Gregerson gave up the tying run in the seventh, Oakland reclaimed a 4-3 lead in the bottom half, and Sean Doolittle pitched a 1-2-3 eighth to get it to Johnson.
But it unraveled quickly. Ryan Raburn and Nick Swisher opened the ninth with back-to-back singles, and after Swisher was forced at second on a Jason Kipnis grounder, Carlos Santana walked to load the bases. Michael Brantley hit a first-pitch single through the right side to score two runs, and David Murphy's subsequent sacrifice fly provided Cleveland an insurance tally.
Manager Bob Melvin was disappointed with the outcome but wasn't about to panic about Johnson's second straight disastrous performance. He said Indians hitters laid off some good pitches, then hit ones that Johnson got up in the zone.
"You know what? It's been two games," said Melvin. "We traded for him for a reason. He has a terrific track record. But he's obviously off to a slow start."
Johnson isn't sure what the problem is, but he's sure he'll solve it.
"Something's going to click," he said. "That's how this game works out. You go through slumps, and just one thing can get you going, and you're off to the races."
Kazmir clicked from his first inning. The 30-year-old left-hander brings a completely different approach to pitching than the departed Bartolo Colon, but in his first official A's outing, the end result was remarkably similar.
Kazmir allowed just three hits and didn't walk a batter while striking out five. He didn't allow a Cleveland batter to reach second base until Mike Aviles doubled with one out in the eighth inning, the last man he faced in a sterling first effort.
It may be premature to say that Kazmir is capable of replacing Colon's 18 wins and ace presence, but it was pleasing to Melvin's eye in the wake of his seriously depleted starting staff to see this debut.
"Very," he said. "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. But when you lose a Bartolo to free agency, and guys like (Jarrod) Parker and (A.J.) Griffin go down, his importance is key for us."
Kazmir (1-0) didn't look as if he was feeling any pressure whatsoever, despite the fact that he was facing the team with which he revived his career in 2013. He admitted that part of it was a bit strange.
"Maybe if we'd waited a month for this to happen, it wouldn't have felt so weird," he said. "In this first inning, I heard everyone in the other dugout chirping at me, just talking trash and stuff. That was different, but I got a couple outs and was able to quiet them down a little bit and get in my game."
One of the things the Indians were yelling at Kazmir was that his velocity was somewhere in the high 80s, even though he consistent registered 90-92 mph radar readings with his fastball. It's not terribly relevant anyway, since Kazmir doesn't depend on his velocity as much as Colon did.
"Bartolo was just all fastballs, fastballs, fastballs -- that's what he does," said catcher Derek Norris. "Scott works with his off-speed and gives hitters a lot of different looks. It's just a different style of pitching."
But Norris took exception to a reporter's use of the word "crafty" to describe Kazmir's style.
"To me, crafty means that you don't have much velocity," he said. "I don't know where he was sitting at today, but if he rears back and lets it go, he can run it up there with the best of them. I wouldn't call him crafty. But he's definitely well-rounded."
Follow Carl Steward on Twitter at twitter.com/stewardsfolly.
A's (Jesse Chavez, 2-4 in 2013) at Seattle (Roenis Elias, MLB debut), 7:05 p.m. CSNCA
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