Inside Pitch: Johnson's Major Test

It's been nearly a month since Dan Johnson was promoted to the majors and he's become the latest in a long line of hitters to understand what a dramatic difference there is between Triple-A pitching and the major leagues. "It's the biggest learning experience ever," said Johnson, the Most Valuable Player of the Pacific Coast League last season. "Coming up through the ranks, I've always had a period of adjustment. But this one takes the cake.

"The ball moves so much. These guys let it go and it's hard to adjust. I'm used to seeing four-seam fastballs. Now it doesn't seem like they exist anymore."

It didn't help that Johnson had developed a bad habit of "wrapping" his bat back further behind his head, costing him precious split seconds, that didn't allow his bat to get through the hitting zone with normal timing.

Batting coach Dave Hudgens spotted that flaw before Monday's game, and showed him videotape of his swing at Triple-A Sacramento, where he wasn't doing it.

"Wow," thought Johnson. "I really am wrapping."

The mechanical flaw corrected, Johnson mashed his first major-league home run Tuesday, in his 69th career at-bat, and seems to be swinging the bat with a lot more confidence as the A's host Bay Bridge rival San Francisco this weekend.

The souvenir baseball was returned to Johnson for just a bat and two signed T-shirts.

"It's not that much because when I got there was three outs in the (fourth) inning, I think that will cost me more," Johnson said. "I'm pretty sure of it. I got the ball cheap."

Kotsay's All-Star Credentials

The last four games through Tuesday were textbook examples of why A's manager Ken Macha believes center fielder Mark Kotsay should be an All-Star.

That Kotsay has just two hits in those four games further exemplifies the point.

Kotsay made the most of his only hit Tuesday, a run-scoring single that gave the A's a 2-1 lead en route to a 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, but it was his spectacular running catch in the fifth inning that saved the day.

Rich Harden (3-3) was dominant in his first start in nearly five weeks, retiring 14 of the first 15 hitters, but a blooper and walk put two runners on base with two outs in the fifth inning as Harden started to fatigue.

Against 42-year-old catcher Pat Borders, who was sporting a .218 average, it seemed like an easy spot for Harden to finish the inning. Borders crushed a fastball to center, however, and Kotsay had to run an eternity before reaching up at the last second to make a game-saving catch.

"It would a completely different game if Kotsay doesn't make that nice catch out there," Harden said. "I thought there was no chance. That ball had a shot at going out."

Kotsay thought the same.

"This park plays big, it doesn't seem like the ball is carrying lately," Kotsay said. "I covered enough ground and got my head to stop bouncing. The longer the run, a lot of times when you get there, your head is still bouncing. That throws it off and it will clank off the side of your glove."

Dan Haren Starring

The difference between Dan Haren now, and just two months earlier, is like night and day.

"I'm getting more confident every time out," Haren said. "I'm confident that I can win every game now. That wasn't the case earlier in the year. I was going out there, down on myself sometimes, or scared to pitch. Now I want the ball every time."

Haren (5-7) won his fourth straight decision Monday night, giving up two runs in eight innings in the A's 6-2 win over the Mariners. It was the fifth time Haren's allowed two runs or less in his last six starts. He has pitched at least 6.2 innings in six starts in a row.

All those low-scoring games earlier this year, a source of frustration for A's pitchers, could prove beneficial. They've learned to pitch in close games and are used to it.

"Every game is a battle and you absolutely have to stay focused every pitch," Haren said. "In those tight games, you really learn how to pitch. It's made a difference, definitely."

Other Notes

-- RHP Rich Harden retired 14 of the first 15 hitters he faced Tuesday in his first start in nearly five weeks. Harden allowed one run in five innings, getting help in the form of a spectacular catch from CF Mark Kotsay to end the fifth, and got the win.

--RHP Jairo Garcia was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento before Tuesday's game in order to make room for RHP Rich Harden coming off the disabled list. Garcia, considered one of the team's top pitching prospects, made one appearance and pitched a scoreless inning.

--2B Marco Scutaro made the pivot on two difficult double plays to help thwart rallies Tuesday. Scutaro ran his errorless streak at second base to 55 straight games. He also singled twice, walked once, drove in a run and scored one run.

--RHP Kiko Calero worked the ninth inning Monday, with a four-run lead in a non-save situation, to close out the lead. RHP Huston Street (strained hamstring) probably isn't available until this weekend. RHP Justin Duchscherer, who earned the save Saturday and Sunday, was available and is considered the interim co-closer with LHP Ricardo Rincon. But the four-run lead allowed A's manager Ken Macha to rest both Duchscherer and Rincon.

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