Brian Johnson picked up his first major league victory April 18 when he pitched five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. He received a baseball from the game as a memento then was sent back to Triple A Pawtucket that night.
For some pitchers, the demotion would have been dispiriting. But Johnson had a 3.18 earned run average in his next five starts for the PawSox. That earned him another start in the majors.
Johnson will be added to the roster Saturday to face the Seattle Mariners. The 26-year-old lefthander is 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA overall for Pawtucket.
“I just go pitch to pitch. There are ups and downs in this game and I don’t let that bother me,” Johnson said Friday before the Red Sox played the Mariners at soggy Fenway Park. “I was happy to get that chance and here I am again.”
Seattle also is using a fill-in starter. Righthander Rob Whalen will be recalled from Triple A Tacoma for the game. He was 0-2 with a 4.09 ERA in four starts there.
Whalen started five games for the Atlanta Braves last season, going 1-2 with a 6.57 ERA.
Johnson, a supplemental first-round pick in 2012, has had a breakthrough season so far.
“We’ve seen a gradual increase in stuff overall,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “There’s been better crispness. There’s been consistent strike throwing. There’s the ability to put away guys with the breaking ball [and] a slight up-tick in velocity.”
For Johnson, there have been physical improvements related to his delivery. But more than anything else it comes back to being able to enjoy his profession after needing a break to deal with anxiety issues last season.
“I can take the field every day and have fun with the game,” Johnson said. “It’s fun again. If I have a bad inning, I just wash it.”
Johnson was 88-90 miles per hour with his fastball against Toronto. He succeeds by throwing secondary pitches for strikes and working at a quick pace.
“That win last time let me know I belong up here. It gives me a lot of confidence going into [Saturday]. I know what I need to do,” Johnson said. “Hopefully I can do my part.”
With David Price set to come off the disabled list Monday, Johnson will not be on the major league roster for long again this time. But it is inevitable that the Red Sox will need rotation help again this season because of injury or poor performance.
Johnson represents their best option at this point.
Kyle Kendrick and Hector Velazquez pitched poorly in their opportunities and Henry Owens is averaging 6.6 walks per nine innings in Triple A.
“Things are going to cause you to tap into that group,” Farrell said. “Brian gets a second shot here.”