Brian Johnson did not set the world on fire or save the Boston Red Sox’s season in his first major league start. His debut was a far cry from that of, say, Eduardo Rodriguez.
But let’s see how the 24-year-old southpaw fares under more standard playing conditions before making any judgments about his big league readiness.
Though Tuesday’s 8-3 loss to the Houston Astros marked Johnson’s first appearance in a Red Sox uniform, his first major league call-up actually came back on July 11 — more than two weeks ago. With the Sox able to reset their rotation during the four-day All-Star break, thus skipping Johnson, the rookie entered his start against the Astros on 15 days’ rest rather than the usual five.
Was that — coupled with the understandable nerves that accompany such a promotion — enough to throw off Johnson’s rhythm? It certainly appeared so early on.
Johnson allowed a walk, a single and a run in the first inning, then issued two additional free passes in a scoreless second. Command was an issue in those early frames, as 20 of the left-hander’s first 42 pitches missed the strike zone.
From there, however, he settled down, employing a few devastating curveballs to strike out the side in the third and setting the Astros down in order in the fourth, as well.
“I thought he threw a number of good curveballs, particularly in the second through the fourth inning of work,” manager John Farrell told reporters, as aired on “Red Sox Extra Innings LIVE.” “He started to settle into, I thought, a decent rhythm. I would imagine that there were some nerves that he was dealing with in that first inning. He was able to get out of the first-and-third situation (in the first) with just the one run allowed.”
Johnson’s outing was brief — he was pulled after 4 1/3 innings — and ended poorly — he was charged with three runs in his final frame, thanks in part to an error by catcher Ryan Hanigan that allowed two Astros runners to score. But it was far from a disaster, as he displayed plenty of encouraging signs during those third and fourth innings — certainly enough to earn him a second start for a Red Sox team that needs its young arms to step up.
“I thought he did pretty well,” Hanigan told reporters. “Good use of his curveball. We kind of pitched backward to some guys, and that worked out. Fastball command was decent, but he got through some situations. Had some quick innings there. Pitch count got a little high, but overall, I thought it was a solid start for him.”
Johnson admitted to being nervous at the outset but said that anxiety faded after the first batter. Though his first start was not the gem rotation mate Rodriguez’s was, he’s confident success will come.
“Just stay true to yourself,” Johnson told reporters. “… Your stuff will play.”
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images