While Clay Buchholz was undergoing an MRI because of soreness in his right elbow, Brian Johnson was calling his parents to let them know that opportunity had come knocking.
With Buchholz on the 15-day disabled list, the Sox called up the 24-year-old lefthander from Triple A Pawtucket.
Johnson woke his parents at 12:30 a.m. to give them the news.
“They were both asleep for a while,” Johnson said.
It was a moment Johnson had waited for since the Sox selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft, and one he could feel getting closer after he was invited to spring training this year.
“I think [I felt] every emotion you could have,” Johnson said. “Calling my parents last night, it was awesome. I woke both of them up, but they were both very, very excited.”
The Sox are scrambling to find a short-term replacement for Buchholz, who, before leaving Friday’s game in the fourth inning, had a string of strong starts that helped the team climb back into relevance in the AL East.
“As we come out of the break, now we have to adjust the rotation and who will fall on each of the given days,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “We haven’t announced that yet; we’re still working through the alignment. But obviously Brian becomes a candidate to be one of the five as we come out of the [All-Star] break.”
In 16 starts for Pawtucket this season, Johnson is 8-6 with a 2.73 ERA in 85⅔ innings. His 81 strikeouts are the second most on the team behind Henry Owens. He is second in the International League with a 1.10 WHIP and was named to the IL All-Star team last week.
Johnson was scheduled to start for Pawtucket on Saturday against Lehigh Valley before getting word to come to Boston. Even with the short notice, Johnson said he felt ready.
“As ready as I can be,” he said. “I just try to stick to my routine that we made in spring training and rolled out in Pawtucket and it’s been working well so far.”
With a combination of composure and strike-throwing, Johnson impressed in seven spring training appearances.
“The one thing he showed in spring training was a willingness to attack the strike zone with three pitches,” Farrell said. “He’s got a couple of breaking balls he can get some swing and miss to.
“[He has] experience at the higher levels that allowed him to face older hitters, more experienced hitters that might sit on given pitches. His overall competitiveness, in addition to the repertoire mentioned, that brings him here equipped.”
In four of his seven spring training games, Johnson came out of the bullpen. And even though he’s been a starter in Pawtucket, he said he’d be comfortable in a relief role if need be.
“I don’t mind it at all,” Johnson said. “Like I said, I’m grateful to go to big league camp and pitch out of the bullpen for my first three appearances. So I think that was huge for me and knowing how to prepare and how to see the game [unfold] and be ready.”
Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez were two of the strongest arms on a promising Pawtucket pitching staff at the start of the season, with both of them winning three of their first five starts.
Seeing Rodriguez’s success since being called up from Pawtucket in May reassured Johnson that he could pitch at the major league level.
“Watching Eduardo go up there and have such success and do it every outing, it’s awesome and it gives you confidence,” he said.
Buchholz had faith that Johnson could step into the role and contribute.
“He’s been dealing down there,” Buchholz said. “I feel like he’s going to be a big asset to us.”
Even if the circumstances weren’t ideal, Johnson said he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Unfortunately Buch went down, but he’ll be back for sure,” Johnson said. “I’m just excited to be here with the opportunity.”