OAKLAND -- It wasn't much of a spring for Jim Johnson, and his debut with the A's on Monday wasn't any better.

Johnson, brought in as the A's closer, gave up two ninth-inning runs to Cleveland as a winnable game slipped away from Oakland. The Indians scored a 2-0 victory in the opener, and the boos, while not substantial, were clearly audible.

"I would have booed me, too,'' Johnson said. "I deserved it. The next time, though, they'll be cheering.''

Johnson, with 101 saves in the past two seasons, has no shortage of confidence. As he was quick to point out, after he put men on, with his sinker as an out pitch, he's always one pitch away from a double play. Just not on this night.

The right-hander faced five hitters and got just one out, a sacrifice fly off the bat of Nyjer Morgan that produced the game's first run. The second came on a single by former Athletic Nick Swisher, after which manager Bob Melvin replaced Johnson as an unhappy full house made its displeasure known.

"He'd given up a couple of runs,'' Melvin said in explaining why he lifted his closer. "We don't what him to throw too many pitches this early in the season. We don't want him out there throwing 30 pitches.''

Johnson, who wound up throwing 17 pitches, appeared in nine games this spring, posting a 5.00 ERA while giving up 14 base runners in nine innings, 11 hits and three walks. That's not what the A's were hoping for when they traded Jemile Weeks to Baltimore to replace departed closer Grant Balfour.


Advertisement

It's not what Johnson wanted or expected either, particularly in the wake of a gritty six-inning start from Sonny Gray, who was constantly in trouble and yet able to hold the Indians scoreless.

"That was one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen,'' Johnson said of Gray, who allowed five hits and three walks and who twice caught Indians runners in outs between third and the plate. "I've never seen anybody wiggle like that.''

The A's didn't have as much offensive muscle as the Indians on this cool, wet night, but Josh Donaldson twice delivered singles to center with men on second base, but in neither case did the runners score.

Eric Sogard got a bad read on a single in front of Morgan in center in the sixth, and Daric Barton held up thinking he would have to tag up on a long fly in the eighth. The ball wound up hitting the top of the wall, and Barton was only able to get to third base, where he wound up being stranded.

It was the second straight 2-0 loss on opening day for the A's, who have now lost 10 consecutive openers, the longest such streak in major league history.

Melvin did not seem to have much of a problem with the base running, reasoning that given the situations, Sogard needed to hold up to make sure the ball made it through, and Barton had to be sure he wasn't going to need to tag up.

The new look of baseball was very much in evidence in the opener, with a replay making sure the Indians didn't produce a sixth-inning run as the new rules on collisions at the plate were put to the test.

All of that happened in the sixth inning with one out, men on first and third and Gray working on a shutout. Asdrubal Cabrera tried to shoot a single up the middle, but Gray knocked down the ball, corralled it and threw to catcher John Jaso, who slapped a tag on Michael Brantley.

Umpire Mike Winters ruled that Jaso had given Brantley enough room to reach the plate and had slapped the tag on in time. Then Winters called for a review of his own decision. Sixty-five seconds later the call came back from New York. Winters' original call was upheld.

Oakland didn't have as much going against Justin Masterson, who won 14 games for the Indians a year ago. He threw seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and a walk.

  • The A's had been operating on the idea that Yoenis Cespedes would be the cleanup hitter, but after a .167 spring, the left fielder hit fifth in the opener with Brandon Moss batting fourth. "It will depend,'' Melvin said, looking forward with his lineups. "With two right-handers (Cespedes and Donaldson, who bats second) I like to spread it out. This insulates Moss, and we have four left-handers in a row sixth through ninth.''

  • The A's will face just one left-handed starting pitcher on this seven-game homestand to start the season, probably not until Thursday or Friday. But the club won't wait that long to get its key right-handed role players into games. Melvin said catcher Derek Norris, for one, could expect to start one of the season's first three games. Norris hit .378 this spring, and the A's want to keep him sharp.

  • Ryan Cook threw a simulated game with Triple-A Sacramento early in the day Monday. It was just as well, because the River Cats home opener was washed out.

  • The A's acquired former Oakland starter pitcher Joe Blanton on Monday, signing him to a minor league deal. He'd been released by the Angels at the end of spring training. Blanton, who pitched for the A's from 2004-08, will start the season in the rotation at Sacramento.

    For more on the A's, see John Hickey's Inside the A's blog at ibabuzz.com/athletics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JHickey3.

    TUESDAY'S GAME
    Cleveland (Corey Kluber, 11-5 in 2013) at A's (Scott Kazmir, 10-9), 7:05 p.m. CSNCA
    Online extra
    Scan this code with a smartphone to view an A's photo gallery or go to http://photos.mercurynews.com.

    INSIDE
    Kawakami: With San Jose
    out of play, A's seek long-term lease in Oakland. PAGE 2