With each step of his career Brian Johnson is getting stronger on the hill, rounding into ace-quality form as he climbs the ladder.
A Red Sox first round selection in 2012, the left-hander had his first run as a pro with the Lowell Spinners cut short after getting hit in the face by a batted ball, but has since showed no ill effects as he has jumped up three levels in the last two seasons.
Now at Double-A Portland, Johnson's name should be spoken with the rest of the top young arms that the Red Sox system has to offer, which is saying a lot.
“I’ve been pitching freely and pitching in the moment,” said Johnson. “[I’m] establishing my fastball both in and out of the zone.”
With a 6-1 record, 1.66 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in nine starts since joining the Sea Dogs in May, Johnson has been the most consistent pitcher in the organization,
After making the jump he found that hitters in the Eastern League had a more advanced approach, so he immediately did what he could to combat that by trying to get up on his opposition right away.
“He’s getting ahead on his fastball and getting hitters in swing mode,” said catcher Blake Swihart. “That’s what this team is all about, get them in swing mode and play with them after that.”
In his last start, a seven inning rain-shortened complete game win against Altoona, Johnson got first pitch strikes on 20 of the 26 batters he faced.
A product of the University of Florida, he credits a commitment to his daily routine and the work of his teammates for his success at this level.
“This team is different,” said Johnson. “I don’t know if it’s anything individualized with me going out there, I think it’s this whole team. It’s fun to go out there and compete and be part of this. Everyone’s putting the team first.”
In 14 starts between Salem and Portland this year Johnson has logged just five less innings than he had in 19 starts a season ago.
His ability to eat innings, and to do so effectively, have earned him the status of Boston’s No. 12 prospect according to MLB.com, and second best southpaw behind teammate Henry Owens.
The key to his success may lie in the fact that nothing has reallly changed in Johnson’s approach to each and every game.
“I just go out there and go about my daily routine every day,” said Johnson. “I’m looking forward to my next start, whenever that is, and [I] get my work done in between.”
“He goes out there and competes every day,” said Swihart. “He’s pitching great.”
With the results Johnson has been putting up, expect that routine to stay pat for quite some time.
Greenville Drive – A 21 run outburst against the Savannah Sand Gnats matched the franchise record for most runs in a game. That mark was set only 54 days prior against Lexington. On the season the Drive are averaging 5.4 runs per game.
Squeezing the system
Pawtucket (AAA) – Knuckleballer Steven Wright has been solid since returning to action following surgery to repair a sports hernia. In his first five starts for the PawSox he is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and has struck out 30 batters in 30 innings.
Portland (AA) – The Sea Dogs became the first team in professional baseball to hit the 50 win mark with a 4-1 victory over New Hampshire on Monday night. Heading into Wednesday, Portland had a five game lead over the Binghamton Mets in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division.
Salem (A+) – After going 0-for-4 in his first game after being called up from Greenville, Jantzen Witte collected hits in his next four. In five games since joining Salem he has a double, triple, five RBIs and two runs scored.
Greenville (A) – Daniel McGrath has put together back-to-back wins after allowing six runs on six hits over 4 1/3 innings against Rome back on June 7th. In his last two outings the lefty from Australia has allowed just three runs, seven hits and three walks, striking out nine over 11 1/3 frames.
Lowell (Short Season A) – At age 36, 4 months and 23 days, outfielder Andrew Torres became the oldest player to ever play in a game for the Spinners. Torres, who was part of the San Francisco Giants World Series Championship in 2010, was signed to a minor league deal by Boston on June 11th.
Gulf Coast (Rookie) – Third baseman Rafael Oliveras has hit safely in all three game this season, with two multi-hit games. In four Gulf League games last season he did not collect a hit.
Dominican (Rookie) – Gerson Bautista has not allowed an earned run in four starts. The 6-foot-2, nineteen-year-old right hander has logged 21 innings and has just three unearned runs on his ledger. Bautista has struck out 11 and given up seven hits and nine walks thus far.