Inside Pitch: Dan Johnson Turns The Corner

Dan Johnson thought he was ready when he made his major-league debut in late May. But after about a month when he could count the number of four-seam fastballs he saw on one hand, he realized what a drastic difference that exists between the pitching in the minors and majors.

For the last month, he's made the adjustments and adapted to his new league. A notorious streaky hitter, Dan Johnson's been one of the hottest hitters for the A's out of the All-Star break.

On June 18, Johnson was hitting .228. The next day, he had three hits against Philadelphia, then two hits at Seattle, and his first major-league home run the following night.

Since then, the rookie first baseman and occasional designated hitter has felt like he belongs at this level and can truly be an everyday player. He was hitting .316 at the end of the Monday. He showed his mettle with a double off of the tough lefty Johan Santana that resulted in the game-winning run for the A's.

"I was patient, but I wasn't taking my normal swing on pitches," said Johnson, a seventh-round pick in the 2001 draft out of Nebraska. "I was trying too hard and trying to do too much. (In Seattle) I started to feel comfortable. Now I feel like I need to take this approach against this pitcher, instead of just hoping I get a pitch to hit."

The elbow injury to Erubiel Durazo in May, which now has him out for the season, ensures Johnson doesn't have to look over his shoulder. He was the Most Valuable Player of the Pacific Coast League in 2004, but had to return to the same league to begin this year.

Now he's here -- and it appears, here to stay. Manager Ken Macha is showing confidence by starting him against many lefties, even if it's much lower in the order than he's used to hitting.

"I DH'd in the nine slot (Monday) against a tough lefty (C.C. Sabathia) and I was ecstatic," Johnson said. "Some were giving me flak for DH'ing in the nine hole, but I was ecstatic that I was still in the lineup."

Harden Gets Support

RHP Rich Harden called Friday's game the worst he's pitched since reaching the major leagues, yet the A's still won 8-4 -- although it was a little closer than expected after a 7-1 lead in the third inning.

"I got away with one," Harden said. "I didn't have good stuff. I was struggling, making bad pitches with two strikes. It's probably the worst I've pitched since I've been here. Overall, it was just bad."

Harden gave up a career-high 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings, departing with a 7-4 lead. Magglio Ordonez came to the plate representing the tying run, but reliever Justin Duchscherer struck him out to end the threat.

With the offensive support, Harden (9-4) still won his fourth straight start. He's 7-1 in eight starts since coming off the disabled list.

"I pitched some good games in the start of the year, some close ones, and I didn't get wins," Harden said. "My last two were pretty ugly, but I'm getting a ton of offense. It makes it easier."

Celebrate Scutaro-Time, Come On!

To understand the confidence the A's feel when Marco Scutaro is at the plate and the winning run is on base, consider that on Wednesday afternoon, the A's dugout was thinking which teammates they should attack once the game ended before Scutaro even stepped into the batter's box.

Bobby Crosby and Bobby Kielty predicted a Scutaro double down the right-field line.

Scutaro fooled his teammates only slightly by going to left field with a broken-bat, game-winning single in the 10th inning to cap a rally from a two-run deficit in the ninth inning and lift the A's to a 5-4 win over the Cleveland Indians.

"This team amazes me every day," right fielder Nick Swisher said. "You get to a point and look up in the stands and everybody is leaving and you're saying, 'we're not out of this just yet.' Today we proved that. We got some huge hits."

Kielty started it with the first of four singles off Indians closer Bob Wickman in the ninth inning. Dan Johnson capped a 4-for-4 day with a single to right and Jay Payton snapped an 0-for-18 skid with the first RBI single.

A's manager Ken Macha initially was going to have Adam Melhuse pinch hit for Scutaro. Instead, he left Scutaro in the game to bunt. Scutaro didn't execute as pinch runner Mark Ellis was thrown out at third. But Jason Kendall delivered the game-tying single.

Crosby and Eric Chavez couldn't deliver the winning blow with the bases loaded, sending it to extras with all momentum on the A's side.

"Everybody in the dugout was feasting and thinking, `this is our game,' " Kielty said. "It ended up that way. We've been playing good baseball. That's a good comeback from behind."

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- number of pitchers who have recorded saves for the A's this year. Octavio Dotel had seven before his season ended. Huston Street has ten and counting. Justin Duchscherer had five when he filled in for Street. Kiko Calero, Jay Witasick and Keiichi Yabu (a three-inning save) all have one.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I pitched some good games in the start of the year, some close ones, and I didn't get wins. My last two were pretty ugly, but I'm getting a ton of offense. It makes it easier." -- A's starter Rich Harden, after his July 29 start.

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