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Brian Johnson has something to prove this spring

Brian Johnson, delivering a pitch during his one inning of work on Saturday, struggled in 2019, finishing with a 6.02 ERA.The Boston Globe/Globe Staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. — There’s not much getting around the harsh reality of the situation. The Red Sox outrighted lefthander Brian Johnson to Triple A on Nov. 27 after he passed through waivers unclaimed.

That means all 30 teams took a pass on having him on their 40-man roster.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t caught by surprise,” said Johnson, a 29-year-old former first-round pick.

Now Johnson is at spring training trying to prove all of those teams wrong. That process started well on Saturday when he threw a perfect inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on eight pitches.


The Sox went on to a 4-3 victory.

“I do have a different approach, I guess,” Johnson said. “For me, I feel like I did coming into ’18. I was a long shot to make the team. All I can do is go out there and do what I can every time I take the ball.”

Johnson made the team that season and had a 4.17 earned run average in 38 games, 13 of them starts. He was the pitcher the Sox used to fill gaps and he handled the job admirably.

But Johnson had a 6.02 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in the same role last season. He also was on the injured list from June 27 to Aug. 2 with what was described as a “non-baseball medical matter.”

As much as anybody else, Johnson is a candidate for the No. 5 spot in the rotation that opened up when Mookie Betts and David Price were traded to the Dodgers.

“Losing David stinks because he’s such a good teammate and a good friend of mine and I’ve been playing with Mookie since 2012,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t easy to take, but you knew it opened up an opportunity for me.”


Johnson averages just below 89 miles per hour with his fastball but throws an effective curveball. To succeed, he has to throw strikes with all of his pitches and avoid throwing fastballs in fastball counts. Opponents had a robust .563 slugging percentage against his fastball last season.

As for his roster status, it’s not an issue at the moment.

“It’s different when you’re a non-roster [player] but not that different,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “You can pop him on if he’s the guy. He needs to go about it the same [way] he’s always gone about it. When you’re trying to be that fifth starter — on the roster or off — I think you go about it the same way.”

The Red Sox have so many candidates for that spot that Roenicke declined to list them all.

“I’m going to leave somebody out and they’re going to be offended,” he said. “I don’t want to go there.”

The Sox could use openers in that spot. But that could wear the bullpen out in a hurry with 20 games scheduled over 21 days to start the season.

Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said Brian Johnson is one of many candidates vying for the No. 5 slot in the rotation. Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

That’s a stretch

Major League rules call for teams to use at least four regular players, or at least projected regulars, in spring training games. The Sox will be stretching that rule quite a bit at Sarasota on Sunday afternoon when they face the Orioles.

The most notable players on the travel roster are Rusney Castillo, Marco Hernandez, Tzu-Wei Lin, Kevin Plawecki, and Bobby Poyner. Righthander Chris Mazza is starting, followed by Poyner, Matt Hall, and Yoan Aybar.


Bogaerts back at it

Xander Bogaerts, slowed by a sore left ankle, has been hitting in the cage and for the last two days has taken ground balls. He has plenty of time to be ready for the season . . . The Sox have their annual meeting with MLB Players Association officials at 8 a.m. on Monday. With the team still under investigation by MLB for allegedly using video to steal signs in 2018, there are sure to be a lot of questions . . . The Sox announced a sellout crowd of 9,641. They have sold out all 126 Grapefruit League games at JetBlue Park since it opened in 2012 and have a streak of 136 going back to City of Palms Park.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.