Johnson points to unlucky results in bullpen's struggles

Johnson points to unlucky results in bullpen's struggles

NEW YORK -- As the Braves have struggled to extend their early-season success over the past week, their inexperienced bullpen has proven to be a liability. But the most concerning aspect for the Braves stems from the recent struggles endured by Jim Johnson, who retired just one of the five batters he faced during Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to the Mets.

"I look at the execution on pitches and I feel like I executed a lot of pitches," Johnson said. "Three days a week isn't going to define my season. I know the ups and downs of a year, and it seems like a little luck went their way."

Johnson might have been victimized by some tough luck after he issued a leadoff walk to Curtis Granderson, who looked at consecutive strikes to begin the plate appearance. Juan Lagares followed with a soft opposite-field grounder that reached the edge of the outfield grass because second baseman Jace Peterson had moved to cover the base on a hit-and-run play. Lucas Duda followed with an opposite-field single that plated Granderson with the winning run.

"With a little bit of luck, [Lagares' single] goes to [first baseman Freddie Freeman], or a with little bit a luck, it comes back to me," Johnson said. "Who knows? It's just part of the game. Duda caps one off the end of the bat and it barely gets out of the infield. I don't know. It's a crazy game."

Johnson also knows this can often be a cruel game. Since limiting opponents to three hits while beginning the season with five consecutive scoreless appearances, Johnson has been reintroduced to the frustration he encountered while producing a 7.09 ERA over 54 appearances for the A's and Tigers last year.

Johnson has retired just six of the 18 batters he has faced while allowing five runs in 2 2/3 innings over his past three appearances. He also has squandered an eighth-inning lead in his past two outings.

Johnson's forgettable experience on Wednesday night blemished the contributions of Braves starter Eric Stults, who retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced while limiting the Mets to one run over six innings. Stults was in line to get the win until rookie reliever Cody Martin surrendered a game-tying homer to Wilmer Flores in the seventh inning.

Martin, who has allowed just two runs through 10 innings, stands as one of the four members of Atlanta's seven-man bullpen with 17 appearances or fewer at the Major League level. The only seasoned members of this relief corps are Johnson, Luis Avilan and closer Jason Grilli.

As the Braves won six of their first seven games, their bullpen allowed just two runs over 24 1/3 innings. But as they lost five of the seven games that followed, they have seen their bullpen allow 16 runs over 26 innings.

"It's just the ups and downs of the season," Johnson said. "There's no way to pinpoint it. We're focusing on the right things still. Jason, myself and Luis have been through it all before. We've just got to execute the best we can."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.