NEW YORK -- Although the 2014 baseball season is only one-third complete, it's already been a long one for A's reliever Jim Johnson.
Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in December, Johnson began the season as the A's closer, but as the club heads into Tuesday's road trip opener against the New York Yankees, he has become a middle reliever, more likely to pitch when the A's are behind than ahead.
But he can at least be happy the A's are on the road for their next nine games against the Yankees, Orioles and Los Angeles Angels. Away from the Coliseum he's been reasonably effective with a 3-0 record, a 1.98 ERA and .208 opponents' batting average.
Things could not be more different at home, where his record is 0-2, his ERA is 14.04, and opponents are averaging a jaw-dropping .465 against him.
Is there an explanation? If there is, everyone is keeping mum about it.
"I don't know what the numbers are," Johnson said. "I have no clue. I don't think the numbers really matter."
One thing he is finding out, however, is that his teammates have his back. When he was booed by the Coliseum crowd on Thursday, they jumped to his defense.
Josh Donaldson and Sean Doolittle voiced disappointment in hearing the booing, and despite being in his first year with the A's, Johnson was not surprised.
"This is a supportive group," the veteran right-hander said. "They know it's a long season."
An American League scout who has been watching the A's for a while says inconsistency with his breaking stuff has been hampering Johnson.
"The numbers will take care of themselves," the scout said, "once he keeps his pitches consistent. The way things are now, he'll have one curve look great, the next will hang. He'll keep his sinker down, but when he doesn't, it's up in the zone and he gets hit, and hit hard.
"I don't think it's a matter of stuff--just look at his numbers on the road. It's a matter of finding some success, then repeating it."
What Johnson has done so far, in Oakland at least, is to repeat mistakes. He gave up both runs in the ninth inning of a 2-0 loss to Cleveland in Oakland on March 31 to start the season, and things have not improved much. He's pitched in the Coliseum 11 times, and in six of those games he's given up runs, four times more than one run.
For someone who came to the A's this winter riding back-to-back 50-save seasons while with the Orioles, that's troublesome in the extreme.
A's pitching coach Curt Young admits that to have since a huge variance in home-road numbers is unusual--and difficult to pin down.
"He's been in most stadiums, he's comfortable everywhere," Young said. "I think he's comfortable here. He just hasn't had the same success."
Manager Bob Melvin said Thursday he's going to be using Johnson mostly when the A's are behind, which could mean relatively little work with the A's owning the best record in the American League at 35-22.
Asked about the home vs. road issue, Melvin said, "That's a question that's better for him."
As for the booing, the manager said he doesn't want to see any rift between the A's and their fans.
"In any family, there are going to be squabbles," he said. "But I would hate to see anything come between us and our fans. I don't think anything will."
Johnson, in the midst of the chilliest spell of his big league career, is looking backward to look forward.
"How do I get through this?" he asked rhetorically. "I've had times in the minor leagues where I struggled. I got through it. I will again. I've just got to keep pushing forward."
(c)2014 The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.)
Visit The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.) at www.insidebayarea.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services