It has been more painful to watch than Jimmie Walker's fall from stardom. And I have a feeling that it may have finally run its course. I'm talking, of course, about the slow, steady, and excruciating journey that Jim Johnson has taken from closer to failed mop up man in 2014.
Anointed the team's closer after saving 101 games for Baltimore in 2012-13, Johnson's first appearance with the A's came in a non-save situation when Oakland found itself 0-0 going to the 9th inning on Opening Night. Johnson gave up 2 runs to take the loss, then proceeded to lose his closer's job just 2 weeks into the season.
Moved into "lower high leverage" duty, a combination of bad luck and bad control earned Johnson more failures and controversial boos from the Oakland crowd when he pitched poorly at home -- which he did with regularity even when having some success on the road.
By May, Bob Melvin seemed uncomfortable putting Johnson into games the A's had a chance to win, opting instead to give him "confidence booster" opportunities in long relief situations. And now even that isn't working. On the last road trip, Johnson entered a game the A's trailed in Baltimore and promptly served up a 2-run HR to David Lough on the second pitch he threw. Today, Melvin gave Johnson the 9th inning with the A's leading 10-3 and had to go get him after Johnson served up another 2-run HR, then a walk and a single.
Even last night's scoreless inning for the beleaguered RHP featured 2 BBs and HBP. Does it feel like Johnson rarely has a "clean inning"? Johnson has made 28 appearances for the A's, 26 of which have been 1 IP or less, and in exactly 3 of them he has not allowed at least one base runner. (In 16 of them he has allowed 2 or more base runners.)
Meanwhile, Eric O'Flaherty is either ready to join Oakland or he is very close. O'Flaherty has now had 3 rehab appearances, one in Stockton (he struck out the side in a 1-2-3 inning), a 1-2-3 scoreless inning for Sacramento on June 11th, and then 1⅔ IP today (he walked a batter and gave up a 2-run HR because he is practicing to replace Johnson).
Clearly, Sean Doolittle's, Luke Gregerson's, Dan Otero's, and Fernando Abad's jobs in the bullpen are safe. Ryan Cook melted down again today but assuming he's 100% healthy his job should also be safe. O'Flaherty makes 6 relievers and at this point it is difficult to see the A's keeping Johnson over Jeff Francis, partly because Francis provides Oakland with a true long reliever and partly because frankly I think Melvin feels more comfortable putting Francis into a game than he does with his Opening Night closer.
It has come to this. I don't think any team is going trade for Jim Johnson right now. Teams who are looking for bullpen help are not seeking someone whose season has gone so far south that he can't even finish mop-up duty on his current team. When O'Flaherty is activated -- and that could conceivably be as soon as Tuesday -- if Oakland can't find a desperate suitor I think the A's are going to do the unthinkable and eat the contract for their most expensive player.
I really think Johnson has thrown his last pitch for the A's. And even if you have booed him, hated him, hated his contract or hated his pitching for the Oakland A's, nonetheless it's kind of sad any time it's shoved in front of our face how quickly, profoundly, and without apology, this game can humble a player who just 2 years ago was seemingly on top of the world.