Rooting from other dugout
Johnson follows his son up close
HOUSTON - During spring training, it was easy for Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson to openly root for his 26-year-old son, Chris, a third baseman with the Astros.
“I was like, ‘I hope he gets a hold of one,’ and he’d hit one and I’d smile,’’ Ron Johnson said. “Then when he’d strike out, I’d make fun of him.’’
But last night, with the Red Sox in town for the start of a three-game interleague set at Minute Maid Park, it was all business between father and son.
“I had some awkward feelings coming into this thing, just because of the situation,’’ Ron Johnson said. “You look at us over here, and we’re very serious. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I don’t want to see my son do well - I do. But it’s almost better because this is go time now, and the focus is going to be on our team and what I need to do to help this team win.
“In spring training, it was more laid-back, but this is about us and our team and we’re trying to get us going again and he’s trying to do the same thing for his team.’’
Johnson, who went 2 for 4 in last night’s 7-5 loss to the Red Sox, has hit safely in 16 of 17 games, hitting 328 (21 for 64) in that stretch. It helped improve his batting average to .248 after he hit .185 through the first month of the season.
“He hit over .300 the last month and he’s focused on trying to keep himself doing the things he needs to do, and trying to be successful and trying to get himself established,’’ said Ron Johnson. “I think that’s the focus on his mind right now, which is good.’’
Asked how difficult it would be to contain his emotions if his son were to have a big night against the Sox, Johnson replied, “I’ll have to be stone-faced because I know we got guys on the mound who would not think it was funny at all. I’d have to respect my teammates and organization because that’s what I do for a living and that’s what he does over there.
“I’m not going to be in position to be jumping up and down if he hits the ball out of the ballpark.’’
Friendly foe Terry Francona isn’t a big fan of interleague play, and he has less reason to like it this weekend because he’s managing against Brad Mills, who served as his bench coach in Boston from 2004-09 before taking over in Houston prior to last season.
“I’m not real crazy about this,’’ Francona said. “It’s fun in spring training because the outcome of the game doesn’t matter, but it’s hard [now] because we want to win so bad and so does he.
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable. It’s not the optimum.’’
Power to him David Ortiz, the 2010 Home Run Derby champion, was named captain of the American League contingent on Thursday for this year’s event in Phoenix. Prince Fielder, the 2009 derby champ, was named captain of the NL side. Each captain is responsible for picking three players to round out their squads.
Although he declined to divulge whom he is considering, Ortiz was confident the AL will prevail.
“We’re going to try, but I’m telling you, I saw my boy Prince hitting the other day at Fenway [when the Brewers visited for an interleague set] and he didn’t hit one ball in the infield.
“Everything was to the moon and I was like, ‘We got some competition over here.’ It was impressive. And it seems like he’s not even trying. I was watching him in batting practice at Fenway and he was . . . ridiculous. But he’s fun to watch.’’
Ellsbury falls ill Jacoby Ellsbury was a late scratch from the lineup because of illness. Josh Reddick was shifted from left field to center, Drew Sutton was inserted in left, and shortstop Marco Scutaro moved into the leadoff spot. Scutaro recorded the fifth leadoff homer of his career, taking Astros starter Bud Norris deep to left on a 2-and-2 pitch. It was Scutaro’s third homer of the season . . . Kevin Youkilis, who sat out Thursday’s 5-2 victory in Philadelphia with a bone bruise on his left foot, was back at third base. Youkilis fouled a ball off his foot Wednesday night. “Woke up and it didn’t feel too good, so I didn’t play,’’ Youkilis said. “Tito decided not to play me, so I’m good. I’m good to go.’’ . . . Francona said he pondered giving Ortiz the start at first base last night. “They got a lefty going [tonight], but he’s got huge splits, so we may do it [then], we’ll see,’’ Francona said . . . Although Carl Crawford will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list tomorrow, Francona said it was highly unlikely the left fielder would play against his hometown Astros. “He needs some more time,’’ Francona said . . . Another Texas native, Clay Buchholz (15-day DL, lower back strain), said he was comfortable with using next week and the All-Star break to try to quiet his aching back. “I’d rather it be gone, and be healthy for late in the season,’’ he said . . . The New York Times Co. has sold more than half of its stake in the Red Sox for $117 million. The company bought 17.8 percent of the ballclub’s parent company for $75 million in 2002.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.