Johnson hit a grand slam in his first official at-bat back from the minors and the Oakland Athletics gave Penn a rude welcome in his first major league start of the year, scoring nine runs in the first inning of a 10-1 victory Sunday over the Baltimore Orioles.
"I feel completely different in the box than when I left," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm up there to attack the ball and go after it and do some damage rather than having the bat on the shoulder and being really patient."
Johnson knows there's a fine line between patience and defensiveness and believes he crossed it during his early season struggles. Johnson started 67 of the 88 games before the All-Star break but was sent down to Triple-A Sacramento because of his .237 average.
He tried to regain his aggressiveness in the minors and manager Ken Macha pulled him aside before the game to praise him for swinging at the first pitch on a pinch-hit sacrifice fly Saturday in his first plate appearance back. Johnson's grand slam also came on the first pitch.
"I've always tried to be a patient hitter and try to get into the counts where I could be aggressive," he said. "I kind of lost that aggressiveness and instead of going up to the plate to attack the ball, I was more up there being defensive and trying to get into a good count."
The grand slam was the key blow in the nine-run inning, Oakland's biggest since also scoring nine in the first against Texas on Sept. 30, 2000.
Penn's first trip to the majors this season was cut short in May when he underwent an emergency appendectomy just before he was scheduled to start against Seattle. He couldn't make it out of the first inning when he got his second chance, allowing eight runs.
"It was a rough debut," Penn said. "It's been one of those years so far. Hopefully I'll get it turned around and get it going."
Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez also homered for Oakland, and Esteban Loaiza (9-7) pitched eight strong innings to win his fifth straight decision for the A's, who have won 23 of 29 to take control of the AL West. Oakland has a 7½-game lead over Los Angeles, after the Angels won 2-1 at Detroit on Sunday night.
Jason Kendall, Ellis and Jay Payton opened the first with consecutive singles to load the bases. Penn recovered to retire Frank Thomas on a popout, but couldn't handle Chavez's comebacker that deflected off his glove for an run-scoring infield hit.
Johnson's second career grand slam made it 5-1. Things got worse after that for Penn (0-1). He allowed a double to Nick Swisher and then a two-out RBI triple to Marco Scutaro. He was replaced by Russ Ortiz after Kendall hit an RBI single for his second hit of the inning.
"You never want to see anyone struggle like that and get off to a bad start," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We'll see how he rebounds."
Ellis greeted Ortiz with his 11th homer of the season to cap the inning. Penn, who made eight starts in the majors last year, has a 108.00 ERA after one start this season.
The big inning proved to be more than enough for Loaiza, who won despite having his string of 28 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run snapped in the first inning.
Loaiza gave up an RBI double to Miguel Tejada and nothing else as he continued his strong pitching of late. Loaiza allowed one run and eight hits to improve to 5-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his last six starts.
He said his fastball is about 10 mph faster than it was when he battled through injuries early in the season.
"My velocity is back," he said. "In April, May and June, my fastball was 86, 85. Now it's 94, 93 and sometimes 95. It's an unbelievable change."
- The A's took two of three and haven't lost a series since dropping two of three to Boston on July 24-26. They have won 10 series and tied one since.
- Baltimore has allowed a major league-high 185 homers, including a franchise-record 11 grand slams this season.